You have to ask him to ignore the DVD player, which is always on — volume way up — and playing anything from “The Godfather” to “Shrek.” You have to ask him to stop singing — is it Celine Dion today? Eminem? You have to try to forget how immature and unprepared he used to be, and how, at 30 years old, the linebacker has finally managed to strike a balance between work and play.
Suggs is all-encompassing and contradictory, as playful as he is menacing. And as Lewis heads into retirement and Reed approaches an offseason of uncertainty, it’s Suggs who has evolved from an on-field role player and an off-the-field jokester to the man who holds all the keys.
“I’ve seen a maturity and maturation in Terrell that’s substantial,” said Brian Billick, the NFL Network analyst who was the Ravens’ coach when Baltimore selected Suggs with the 10th pick of the 2003 draft. “He’s a much more complete person and a much more complete player than when I was there. It’s good to see.”
Suggs has emerged as one of the league’s top pass-rushers and was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year for the 2011 season. The 12 months that followed, though — the year that led up to Sunday’s showdown against the San Francisco 49ers — were full of pitfalls, both professional and personal.
In the offseason, Suggs tore his Achilles’ tendon, putting his 2012 season in jeopardy. Suggs vowed that he’d return, though many around the league realized that a blown Achilles’ typically requires up to 12 months of recovery time.
“I just refused to accept that,” Suggs said last week. “What drove me to work so hard was the possibility of being here. I knew we had a team that was right there on the brink. . . . I didn’t want to watch the season on the sideline and I definitely wanted to help my teammates reach this point.”
Suggs was back on the field by Oct. 21, but bore only a passing resemblance to the player who was so dominant a year ago. There was no burst off the ball. Getting past offensive tackles became a chore. He posted 14 sacks in 2011 but managed to get to the quarterback just twice in eight regular season appearances.
“What we wanted to do when he first came back was just really bring him back slowly and try to figure out what he could do,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We didn’t want to put him in harm’s way out there and take him out there and all of the sudden he gets hurt again and really do some damage. It took a little bit to try to find out where he was, and we took our time doing it.”