OWINGS MILLS – Barreling aggressively past the line of scrimmage, Terrell Suggs let out a loud yell of celebration after tagging quarterback Joe Flacco for a sack.
The exuberant reaction, the burst to elude the grasping hands of offensive tackle Michael Oher and the outcome of the play were reminiscent of vintage Suggs from years ago.
Between his noticeably leaner build and the enthusiasm and quickness, Suggs didn’t resemble his sluggish form that typified his play last season.
The former Pro Bowl pass rusher registered the lowest sack total of his career while battling his weight, several injuries and the added pressure of a landmark six-year, $63 million contract that included $38 million in guaranteed money.
Suggs acknowledged that it was a frustrating experience.
“Kind of, kind of it was,” Suggs said Sunday as the Ravens concluded a minicamp. “Hey, it’s not expected for me to have a season like that. Rest assured, it will never happen again.”
Suggs, 27, signed his contract last July, inking the richest linebacker deal in NFL history.
Subsequently, he reported to training camp much heavier than normal. He tipped the scales anywhere from 275 to 280 pounds.
And he promptly injured his heel during the preseason.
Then, he sprained his medial collateral ligament on an illegal block by Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.
He wound up recording a career-low 4 ½ sacks and 58 tackles after registering 53 sacks during his first six seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl three times.
“I think last season is kind of where it belongs,” Suggs said. “I’m not really thinking about it anymore. Last season is last season. The only thing I’m focused on right now is this season.”
As the Ravens’ franchise player for the previous two seasons, Suggs wasn’t required to attend the offseason conditioning program.
So, he worked out on his own with a personal trainer back in Arizona.
This year, he has been with the Ravens for the majority of the offseason workouts. And the results are showing as he’s on his way back down toward 260 pounds.
“Terrell Suggs has worked hard, and he’s been here most of the days,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The days he’s been here, I think he’s worked exceptionally hard. He’s committed to getting into great shape.”
Last year, Suggs was coming off the shoulder injury that hampered him during the playoffs.
Between vacations and being unable to work out as much as usual, his weight ballooned.
“It probably would have helped me to be here and get a little better rehab,” Suggs said.
In the process, Suggs went from being one of the most formidable pass rushers in the league to a heftier, less explosive player who specialized in the less glamorous task of stuffing the run.
Now, he’s starting to look like he did two years ago when he notched eight sacks and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
“I think I look good, I feel good, but you can always get better,” Suggs said. “I’m trying to get back into my rare form.”
Besides the pressure of the blockbuster contract, Suggs also had to deal with a personal matter as the mother of his two children filed for a temporary protective order against him following an alleged domestic violence incident last November. The matter was eventually settled amicably, according to Suggs’ lawyers and court documents.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis sees Suggs as being more at peace with himself.
“I think I just see a little more relaxing,” Lewis said. “Anytime you relax playing this game, I think you are going to have your best. Whatever last year was for him, a lot of pressure from whatever side, the bottom line is right now he’s very loose and he’s back to being Terrell.
“The first thing I said to him was, ‘Just go be Sizzle, and we’ve got you. Don’t worry about all that other stuff. Just go play football.’”
During minicamp, Suggs occasionally dropped back into pass coverage.
For the most part, though, he was in attack mode with the scheme intended to send him after the quarterback as much as possible.
“One of our big emphases has been the pass rush technique,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “A lot of probably what has happened with our guys has been me saying we’ve got to stop the run, stop the run and put a lot of emphasis on stopping the run and putting Terrell Suggs where he’s not in a pass-rush mode.
“Our attitude now in this camp has been to work a great deal on pass rush and get him more in a position where he can rush the passer.”
In another move designed to rejuvenate Suggs’ game, the Ravens hired Ted Monachino as an outside linebackers coach.
When Suggs collaborated at Arizona State with Monachino as his position coach, he set the NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. He wound up winning the Bronko Nagurski award, Lombardi Trophy, Hendricks award and was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
"It just brings back old memories,” Suggs said. “Not to say our last coach wasn’t good, I think I relate better to coach Monachino. So, I think it’s definitely a step up having him around.”
Is Suggs truly back?
The truest initial litmus test will be the Ravens’ Monday night season-opener against the New York Jets.
“Not yet, we’ll see Monday night,” Suggs said. “Right now, I’m just trying to set back into that rare form and be the best player I can be for my team.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.