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OWINGS MILLS — Terrell Suggs had unsuspecting Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas set up, lulling the emerging Pro Bowl blocker into a false sense of security.
The Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker continually charged inside across Thomas’ face mask during the early portion of a 28-10 victory six weeks ago at M&T Bank Stadium, establishing right away that he wasn’t content to merely rush outside and take his chances with beating Thomas upfield with his superior speed.
Once Thomas began taking short, choppy steps to his right to counter Suggs’ inside power moves in a nod of respect, Suggs changed tactics and wound up recording two sacks on Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson by applying heat from a variety of angles.
As intriguing as the first encounter was between the two Pro Bowl athletes, this Sunday’s rematch could be worth the price of admission at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"I think it will be a good battle," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "Terrell is one of the better pass rushers in the league. He’s got speed, he’s got quickness and he’s got a knack for getting to the quarterback. Joe is a good athlete and he has some talent, so I think that will be a good matchup."
A two-time Pro Bowl selection. Suggs leads the Ravens with five sacks. He registered the 50th sack of his career last week against the Oakland Raiders.
Drafted in the first round a year ago out of Wisconsin, Thomas has textbook technique and rare athleticism. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, a rare feat in the NFL.
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Thomas combines strength, quickness and tenacity.
"If he’s not already, he’s definitely going to one of the premier tackles in this league," Suggs said. "With him playing the way he’s playing and the new kid, Jake Long, they’ve both impressed me.
‘I’m a hater, so I don’t give anybody props, but they’ve definitely got my respect, and I like playing against them. I like the matchup. It’s going to be fun on Sunday."
There’s a sense as well as statistical evidence that Suggs has been hitting stride over the past few weeks.
Against the Miami Dolphins, Suggs repeatedly beat Long to finish with eight tackles and a sack as well as intercepting a Chad Pennington pass and returning it 44 yards for a touchdown to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Then, he abused Oakland Raiders suspect left tackle Kwame Harris for nine tackles, two for losses and a sack in a 29-10 victory last weekend.
Even in a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts where the defense struggled to contain quarterback Peyton Manning, Suggs had nine tackles with two for losses.
"He’s a great pass rusher," Thomas said. "He’s playing probably the best actually in these two years of playing against him.
"He’s another guy you’ve got to game-plan because he’s such a great pass rusher, but he’s also such a force in the running game. You’ve got to be prepared for a fist-fight because he’s an extremely physical player."
Suggs slumped to a career-low five sacks last season. However, he posted a career-high 95 tackles and deflected seven passes last year.
"Sacks shouldn’t be the only thing that determines if you had a good year," Suggs said. "Julius Peppers had only two sacks last year. Does that make him any less of a player?"
With veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce sidelined for the majority of last season, Suggs became the subject of constant double-team blocking. He also admittedly missed quite a few sacks when he didn’t break down in the open field to finish off plays.
That didn’t dampen the Ravens’ enthusiasm about Suggs, who celebrated his 26th birthday last weekend.
He ranks third behind Michael McCrary on the Ravens’ all-time sack list, trailing the gritty retired defensive end by one sack. He’s still 20 behind Peter Boulware’s franchise-record 70 sacks.
Suggs is athletic enough that he occasionally lines up at safety or cornerback to jam opposing wide receivers.
"He is a natural as a pass rusher, and his drops are great," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He is so physical and violent against the run. He’s just entering the peak of his career."
As the Ravens’ franchise player and playing under a one-year, $8.5 million contract, Suggs skipped training camp. It took him a few weeks to get into football shape after training at home back in Arizona while his teammates toiled in the Westminster heat during first-year coach John Harbaugh’s rigorous training camp.
"I knew the major thing they were going to look at when I got here was if I was in shape," Suggs said. "I trained outside in the Arizona heat, simulated my workouts to the times practices were going on here. I just needed some time to brush the rust off."
The Ravens nearly struck a long-term deal with the former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with a lucrative contract proposal prior to an NFL deadline in late July.
Yet, Suggs isn’t concerned about his impending future.
He’s aware that continued strong performances against elite left tackles like Thomas will pay dividends after the season. If he handles his business now, it will boost his bank account later.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has already made his intentions clear that he wants to keep Suggs in a Ravens uniform for a long time.
"I’m not going to worry about negotiations," Suggs said. "I know I can play, I know I’m a good player. Somebody can always use me.
"They can always use a dominant defensive player. I prefer to stay here with the Ravens. I’m comfortable here. I want to be here."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.