Suggs: 'I want to be a complete player'

OWINGS MILLS -- In an instant, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs managed to lower his shoulder pads to nearly half his standing height while bolting past Washington Redskins offensive tackle Chris Samuels at full speed.

Just as quickly as he burst into the backfield, the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder disrupted quarterback Jason Campbell's throwing motion to trigger free safety Ed Reed's interception.

The rapid sequence stemming from Suggs' acceleration in the Ravens' 24-10 victory over the Redskins has become a common occurrence during a banner season, albeit a campaign that hasn't featured high sack numbers. Heading into Sunday's AFC North division clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the two-time Pro Bowl selection leads the team with 6 1/2 sacks.

Nonetheless, Suggs has emerged as arguably a better all-around defensive player this year as he ranks second on the NFL's second-ranked defense with 86 tackles while returning two interceptions for touchdowns.

"He's playing tremendous," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's as good a run guy as there is in the league, and he's a great pass rusher. He's had a great year for us for us."

Suggs is no longer regarded as a one-dimensional pass rusher in NFL circles, improving all facets of his game with his ability to leverage blockers at the line of scrimmage and his pursuit to track down running backs.

And his awareness and technique in pass coverage is far superior this year with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins and a 42-yard score on an interception against the Cleveland Browns. He has also deflected nine passes and forced a fumble.

"If this position could be perfected, I'd like to try," Suggs said. "I like to say I've gotten a lot better from when I first walked in these doors, but I think I've still got some work to do. I'm only 26 years old, and that's the fun part."

Suggs is tied for 10th in the AFC in sacks, and is tied for 21st in the NFL.

After recording a career-low five sacks a year ago, he's not far ahead of that pace this season.

"I don't have as many sacks as I would like, but I've noticed over the years that even if your sack numbers aren't that high, that doesn't mean you're not having a great year," Suggs said. "Ray Lewis brought that to my attention a few weeks ago. We were talking about the Pro Bowl and I said, 'I might not go because I decided to be a complete player this year.'

"He said, 'Your sack numbers don't decide how your season is going. You've got two picks for crucial touchdowns, not to mention all the batted balls you've had on key plays.'"

With the return of four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce after missing the majority of last season with a torn pectoral and a broken wrist, Suggs is no longer commanding as much double-team blocking attention.

Between Pryce (4 1/2 sacks) and linebacker Jarret Johnson (five sacks), Suggs isn't the only pass rusher that offensive coordinators have to account for on the Ravens' defense.

"I think I am better than last year, but a big part of it is because Trevor is back," Suggs said. "When you have a veteran guy like that, it helps. I'm not taking anything away from Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan, but I think they're better run stoppers than pass rushers. They'll tell you that themselves."

As the Ravens' franchise player, Suggs is making roughly $8.5 million this season after a settlement was reached last spring between his agent, Gary Wichard, and general manager Ozzie Newsome that created a new hybrid defensive end/linebacker designation.

The one-year contract expires after this season, but Suggs is guardedly optimistic about striking a long-term deal with the Ravens after the two sides got close to a new deal during last-minute negotiations prior to an NFL deadline in July.

Besides trying to sign Suggs, the Ravens have to ponder whether they will retain Lewis or inside linebacker Bart Scott as well as finding the money to keep center Jason Brown. All four starters are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the season.

Lewis is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has been named to nine Pro Bowls. At age 33, he leads Baltimore with 134 tackles to go with two sacks and three interceptions.

Suggs is seven years younger than Lewis, and has 51 1/2 career sacks in his sixth NFL season to rank second in franchise history behind Peter Boulware.

"It's out of my hands," Suggs said. "Ray Lewis is the heart and soul of this team. You have to address him first before you talk to anyone else.

"I bleed purple and black and always will. I do want to be here, but, if it doesn't go in my favor, I'm sure there are 31 other teams that would like to have Terrell Suggs on their defense."

Suggs ruled out at least one team from consideration in free agency, though. He isn't interested in donning the Steelers' black and gold unless they made a really exorbitant offer.

"I would never do that," Suggs said. "That number would have to be really, really high."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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