OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Terrell Suggs was all smiles on Tuesday, but the longtime Ravens linebacker is adjusting to major change as he moves toward his 13th NFL season.
Reporting to the team’s Owings Mills training facility for a three-day mandatory minicamp, Suggs was reminded of the offseason departure of five-time defensive tackle Haloti Ngata simply by looking to the locker next to his. The 32-year-old laughed while describing the funny look he offered second-year offensive tackle James Hurst, who now occupies the quarters previously used by Suggs’ close friend and teammate of nine years.
Admitting surprise upon learning Ngata had been traded to the Detroit Lions on March 10, Suggs said the right things on Tuesday, but you could tell it’s something he’s not yet gotten over more than three months later.
“Me and Haloti are very close, so it definitely was kind of weird coming back and him not being here,” Suggs said. “But the show must go on. We wish Haloti the most tremendous success until they play us. He’ll always be a Raven in spirit, but I’m just trying to cope with it for right now.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Suggs has faced seismic change to the Baltimore defense. Two years ago, he was answering questions about the retirement of linebacker Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of safety Ed Reed, two future Hall of Famers who had led Suggs on the field and in the locker room throughout the first decade of his career.
But that transition was made easier by having Ngata next to him as the two Pro Bowl players walked out to the practice field together on a daily basis to lead the first defense in team history not to feature Lewis.
Now, Suggs is hardly alone with the likes of fellow Pro Bowl linebackers Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley and young cornerback Jimmy Smith serving as impact players and leaders in a very talented group, but he can’t help but feel like the last man standing from the old guard of Ravens defense that dominated year after year.
“It’s [season] 13, so it’s weird. It’s a whole new look, a whole new team,” Suggs said. “Like I said, I’m just trying to enjoy it. It’s a whole new feel. But it’s definitely weird having everybody kind of just go on.”
Never one to take himself too seriously, Suggs was as reflective as we’ve ever seen him in discussing his career on Tuesday, repeatedly making mention of this being his 13th season and how long he’s been around.
Last year, the Arizona State product eclipsed the 100-sack mark for his career and matched his second-highest single-season sack total with 12, but Suggs sounds more like a man reaching the light at the end of the tunnel than one obsessed with moving up the list of career sacks from the 24th spot he currently occupies. Asked about his individual goals for 2015, Suggs simply stated he hopes to be better than he was last year while shifting the focus to his hopes for the Ravens building on last year’s playoff run that ended in the divisional round.
Carrying some extra weight for this week’s mandatory minicamp, Suggs acknowledged treating this offseason differently from past years. He said he’s now more concerned with keeping himself fresh for the latter stages of the season rather than being in optimal shape by June.
“I can participate in practice without getting hurt and without getting tired, but I’m definitely not at my ‘fighting’ weight,” Suggs said. “I’m pretty much at my ‘walking around’ weight. Like I said, this is year 13 for me. I can’t really be stressing. I used to always [say], ‘I need to be ready by minicamp,’ and it used to weigh on me; it used to bother me. I didn’t want to let it bother me this year. I just figured at the 13th year, I owe it to myself to sit, pace yourself.”
To be clear, Suggs never said on Tuesday that 2015 would be his final year, but he made it clear that he’s thinking more about his football mortality and isn’t taking anything for granted. Though proclaiming himself to be a “young” 32 — he’ll turn 33 in October — the 2003 first-round pick acknowledged being on the “back nine” of a career that includes the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year award and six Pro Bowl selections.
Suggs is under contract through the 2018 season after signing a four-year extension last offseason, but you have to wonder if he’ll even come close to playing that out at this point. Witnessing longtime teammates depart over the last couple years would make anyone contemplate his own end.
He sees no reason to change his leadership style with Ngata no longer around and repeatedly expressed confidence in the likes of Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan picking up the slack with the 340-pound veteran no longer anchoring the defensive line. But Suggs is keeping his focus on this season alone as he’s the last remaining member of the old guard leading a Ravens defense in transition.
“I’m really looking forward to this year,” Suggs said “At the end of this year, we’ll talk, but you just kind of take it year by year and see what you can do.”