Suggs: Ravens defense yet to "hand out stripes" in post-Lewis era


Long before the Ravens marched to their second Super Bowl title, many wondered which player would ultimately accept the torch passed on from Ray Lewis after his 17 years as leader of the vaunted Baltimore defense.
And now that the last of the confetti has fallen and the Ravens look ahead to life without the future Hall of Famer, linebacker Terrell Suggs admits he’s still not giving too much thought to a defense sans Lewis. The uncertain future of free-agent safety Ed Reed has led many to anoint Suggs as the logical replacement as the spiritual leader of the unit.
According to the 30-year-old linebacker in an interview on AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday, there will be a time this offseason to delegate responsibilities within the defense.
Just not yet.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Suggs said. “I didn’t want to rob myself or my teammates of what we just accomplished together. There’s going to come a time where we’re going to hand out stripes and assignments and jobs and what have you, but right now, we’re just all still on this magic carpet ride just enjoying it. We don’t want to rob each other talking about who’s the defense’s next leader.”
Regardless of how the Ravens solve the gigantic dilemma of replacing Lewis’ leadership, they apparently will have a fully-healthy Suggs, who confirmed he will not undergo surgery to repair the torn right biceps suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers in early December. That injury coupled with the partially-torn Achilles tendon suffered last spring limited Suggs to eight games and a career-low two sacks in 2012.
The Ravens hope a full offseason for the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year will mean a more productive version of the rush linebacker, who is schedule to carry a $13.02 million salary cap number in the penultimate season of a six-year, $62.5 million contract signed in the summer of 2009. Suggs will be counted upon to regain his 2011 form to offset the anticipated departure of pass-rushing specialist Paul Kruger in free agency.
Suggs collected 25 sacks and nine fumbles combined in the two seasons prior to the Achilles tendon injury last offseason. Initially feared to be lost for the season, Suggs returned by mid-October to provide a much-needed presence for the defense despite lacking the same explosiveness he enjoyed before the injury. The torn biceps injury cost Suggs another game in December before the veteran decided to push through the injury.
The 2003 first-round pick says he will be 100 percent for training camp instead of spending his summer days rehabbing like he did last year.
“I feel great; I went to see the doctor about the whole biceps thing,” Suggs said. “He said it’s strong enough that I don’t need surgery. That was good news because I didn’t want to be down for three, four months again. I get to hit the offseason full-stride with a clear vision.
“Now that I have the Lombardi and I have all those awards, I can go into the offseason with no pressure whatsoever and kind of just enjoy it.”
Currently promoting “The Coalition,” a film co-written and produced by the five-time Pro Bowl selection, Suggs quipped that he wouldn’t have bought into the unbelievable story of his championship team had someone tried to sell him the script prior to the season.
Instead, the linebacker enjoyed the first-person account.
“To finally get that done, just thinking of everything we’ve been through since I entered the league in 2003, it was just like, ‘Finally, you’re a champion,’” said Suggs, who joked that he’s now trying to buy the movie rights for the story of the Ravens’ run to Super Bowl XLVII. “I can’t describe it. I will never be able to. It was amazing to do it with my teammates.”
After tasting Super Bowl glory, Suggs will now adjust to playing without the man he affectionately called “The General” for the first time in his professional career. Whether he’s ready to assume Lewis’ gigantic shoes remains to be seen, but Suggs knows the defense won’t soon forget the expectations and vision largely cultivated by Lewis over the first 17 years of the franchise.
It’s a legacy that must be carried on as the veteran prepares for his 11th season in Baltimore.
“No matter what happens in the future, Ray Lewis’ presence will always be felt in that locker room [and] on that field,” Suggs said. “Our defense will still be held to a certain standard.”