Suggs not thinking retirement entering 16th season with Ravens

Credit: Michael Ares

Credit: Michael Ares

Terrell Suggs knows he'll face the question at the close of each season and the start of the next.

Is this the end?

Professional football grinds up the average player in less than four seasons. Suggs is entering his 16th. But as he spoke to reporters Thursday on the last day of the Ravens' mandatory minicamp, it was hard to think of the 35-year-old linebacker as an old man.

His mood was light, his waste lean and his arms rippled with muscle. He certainly wasn't declaring this his last ride, not after he made his seventh Pro Bowl last season.

"I'll never do that," he said in his first comments since the final game of 2017. "I don't think I'll ever be able to say that: Going in, this will be my (last). Nah. It'll probably be one day, I'll just wake up. But I don't think I'll ever not love it. I didn't choose this. I was born, and this is what I am."

Suggs played all 16 games last season without the nicks, bruises or more serious injuries that had worn him down during previous campaigns. Because he exited healthy, he ramped up his offseason conditioning more quickly and steadily than he has in many years.

He credited Ravens trainer Mark Smith and strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders for helping him to stay on track. He was asked if he's ever been in better shape at this point in the offseason.

"I guess we'll have to see," he said softly. "I feel pretty good."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh offered louder praise, echoing comments he's made about Suggs all offseason.

"I have learned to never speculate on what might inspire Terrell Suggs," Harbaugh said. "But he's inspired, there's no question about it. Whatever he's doing, he's inspiring people around him. I mean, the guy is in phenomenal shape. He's at another level of conditioning."

He noted that the satellite tracking data the Ravens receive from Australian company Catapult Sports confirms the speed with which Suggs is practicing.

"I can't wait to see him play," Harbaugh said. "I think he's on a mission, and I think he's headed to the Hall of Fame. I want to see that statement made this year, next year and for as long as he plays."

That open-ended talk jibes with Suggs' own assessment of his career. He's talked about playing past this season, the last on his current contract. He even fielded a question Thursday about a possible extension.

"I've always crossed that bridge when it happened," he said. "I've never been one to jump into that topic before it was time. So I'm not going to worry about it now. There's something more important that's at stake right now."

The Hall of Fame questions have become more frequent as well. Suggs watched one longtime teammate, left tackle Jonathan Ogden, enter in 2013. Another, linebacker Ray Lewis, will go in this summer. Safety Ed Reed could join them as soon as next year. These were the men he looked up to as a young player.

"They never really chased Hall of Fame," Suggs said. "There was nothing more important than what they were doing at the moment. I can't practice every practice or play every play like, 'Oh, I'm trying to get in the Hall of Fame.' No, there's something more important at the moment that I'm doing."

You can't miss Suggs when he's on the field for a workout. He's still the loudest voice on the team, the one who will argue with practice referees or sneak up on kicker Justin Tucker, hoping to provoke a missed field goal.

Harbaugh and his teammates talk about the comfort they draw from knowing Suggs is on their side. He's not only the team's leading pass rusher. He's everybody's older brother.

"I feel like he's like two years older than me, but somehow, he's been in the league for 20 years," quarterback Joe Flacco said, drawing laughs. "It speaks volumes to what kind of person he is, what kind of player he is. He was able to come in this league when he was probably 20 years old and have success. And he's now, whatever he is — 35 or 36, and he's matured and gone through different things, and the bottom line is that he's a football player. He knows how to keep things together, how to get a group of guys playing well together, and at the end of the day, he knows how to get himself ready to go."

Suggs will lead a defense that closely resembles the 2017 unit, with only defensive back Lardarius Webb gone among the significant contributors. The biggest change is on the coaching side, where linebackers coach Don "Wink" Martindale succeeded Dean Pees as coordinator.

Martindale and Suggs share an easy rapport.

"Oh yeah," Suggs said, when asked if the vibe has shifted from the Pees era, though he declined to specify how. "Most definitely, it's changed a lot, and we're happy about it."

For his part, Martindale joked Suggs must have done his offseason training in Wakanda, the fictional home of Black Panther. It was a reference near and dear to the film buff's heart.

Suggs envisions a future in which he's acting, producing and directing. But that future does not feel right around the corner. In fact, he said he's yet to contemplate retirement seriously.

"Nah, because always going into the offseason, some of them, I was coming off significant injuries or a down year, so to say. And you don't want to end it like that," he said. "Whenever I was hurt or didn't perform the way I wanted to, that never crossed my mind. It was like, 'Nah, that wasn't a Sizzle year.' When that day does come, it will end on a Sizzle year."