-- Terrell Suggs says that Adalius Thomas, his fellow Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker, is like a big brother, often mischievous but always helpful. Suggs, like many younger brothers, doesn't always listen to him.
Take, for instance, what happened after Suggs scooped up a fumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. He rambled 24 yards down the sideline, hoping for his first touchdown. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward caught him from behind and dragged him down just short of the end zone, at the 1-yard line.
"We always told him from last year, whenever you get the ball, pitch it," Thomas said. "He knows he's not supposed to run the ball. So close, but no cigar."
A touchdown would have been the perfect cap for a terrific performance by Suggs in the Ravens' 30-13 win over the Steelers. He had five tackles, sacked quarterback Tommy Maddox, forced Maddox into an intentional grounding call and recovered that fumble, which set up a Ravens touchdown.
Thomas also had a good day, with three tackles, three quarterback hits and an interception.
The Ravens are playing without their most experienced pass rusher, four-time Pro Bowler Peter Boulware, who is on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. In his place, the young Suggs and the versatile Thomas have had to step up. Against Pittsburgh, Suggs and Thomas pressured the quarterback from the outside.
"They've been doing a great job so far," outside linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said. "I feel like, after last week's game, we kind of got ourselves to where we need to be at this point in the season. I expect them to be better each week, each day in practice, performance-wise, take care of their business."
On Sunday, Suggs and Thomas get to face Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, the 2003 top draft pick who's making his third career start. Suggs, who left Arizona State after his junior season to enter the NFL draft, played against Palmer (University of Southern California) in college.
"Yeah, I sacked Carson a couple of times," Suggs said. "He knows about it."
Suggs was the most dominant pass rusher in college football during his final season at Arizona State; he had an NCAA single-season record of 24 sacks as a junior and finished with 44 in his three-year career as a defensive end. The Ravens moved him to outside linebacker -- though there were questions initially about his speed -- and he was primarily a situational pass rusher as a rookie. He had 12 sacks, which set a team record for rookies, and was named the Associated Press defensive rookie of the year.
Suggs said he feels much more comfortable at linebacker this season. He had a laundry list of things he wanted to improve on from his rookie year.
"Definitely my pass coverage. Becoming comfortable in my stance. Just all around, becoming a linebacker," Suggs said. "Becoming a lot better versus the run. We're a defense that does very well against the run. We don't like teams running on us, we don't give up 100-yard rushers. I didn't want to be the weak link."
He hasn't been.
"He's improved on his drops, knowing the defense, where he's supposed to be, and his knowledge of the game has gotten a lot better," Thomas said. "Last year they kind of limited his role to just rushing, but now he's doing it all -- rushing, dropping, even doing man-to-man coverage."
Suggs is still very young. He may have a year of NFL experience, but he is the youngest player on the team; he won't turn 22 until Oct. 11. He was barely 7 when Deion Sanders broke into the league with the Atlanta Falcons in 1989; he was a senior in high school when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
"I'm still the big kid," Suggs said. "I'm always going to be T-Sizzle."
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan refers to Thomas as the "Defensive Slash" because of his ability to play so many positions. Thomas started 12 games at defensive end in 2002; last year, he started 11 at left outside linebacker. He led the Ravens with 23 special teams tackles despite missing the final four games with a dislocated elbow. He was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2003 as a special teamer.
At 6 feet 2, 270 pounds, Thomas has played almost every position on defense; he even recalls lining up outside at cornerback because he was covering the tight end in a game against the Texans in 2002.
"The only position I haven't played is safety, so I have to talk to Mike Nolan about that," Thomas joked. "It'd be nice to play all 11 positions in one game, though. Something to shoot for."
He has been starting at right outside linebacker, the spot usually occupied by Boulware, the Ravens' all-time sack leader (67.5). When Boulware returns -- he can start practicing during the sixth week of the season -- he will probably be limited to situational pass rushing, at least initially.
Thomas is "playing more consistent, more aggressive, and those were big targets for us this year," FitzGerald said. "He needs to carry on with his consistency. He's a real student of the game. He applies things quite well, both technique and schematically. He's very communicative."
Ravens Notes: There were no changes to the Ravens' injury report. Sanders (hamstring) is still listed as questionable, and he did not practice for the second consecutive day. Tight end Todd Heap (ankle) is off crutches and is still listed as doubtful, though he won't play. Two Cincinnati starters -- center Rich Braham (knee) and safety Kim Herring (foot), a former Raven -- are out. . . . The Ravens brought in officials for Thursday's practice "just to reemphasize some things," Billick said. Baltimore was penalized 10 times for 123 yards against the Steelers. . . . This will be the third meeting between Billick and second-year Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who spent six seasons as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, three under Billick.
"You've got to be careful, because he knows us, we know him, and then it becomes -- as you've heard me say 1,000 times -- it becomes a bad Abbott and Costello routine: 'I know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know, so we're going to do this, but he knows that, so we're going to do something else,' " Billick said. "You can drive yourself nuts doing that."