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Suggs wins defensive rookie honors

Although he didn't start until the season finale, Terrell Suggs
was so impressive for the Baltimore Ravens that he earned The
Associated Press' NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award Tuesday.

Suggs, an outside linebacker with a pass-rushing burst
reminiscent of Lawrence Taylor, had 12 sacks out of a 3-4 alignment
in which he often served as an end. His skills at pressuring
quarterbacks earned him 23 votes from a nationwide panel of 50
sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.

That beat Dallas cornerback Terence Newman, who had 15 votes.

"Every rookie in the NFL knows it's hard to come into the
league and perform good enough to get an award for it," Suggs
said. "This has been a really great year, and I'm hoping to finish
it real strong.

"I'm kind of overwhelmed with the whole thing. I'm just taking
it in right now. It's a great thing."

Suggs was the 10th overall pick in April's draft, dropping a few
slots when he didn't run as quickly as expected in private
workouts. But he was a pass-rushing force at Arizona State, setting
a Division I-A record with 24 sacks in 2002, and he carried that
talent right into the pros.

"He's a bright kid," Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan
said. "Terrell's still got a lot of growing up to do, but he
learns quickly, has a tremendous passion for football and isn't
intimidated by the pro game."

Why should he be? He's playing on one of the league's most
intimidating defenses, alongside linebackers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Ed Hartwell. Had Boulware not been sidelined last Sunday against Pittsburgh, Suggs would have been a backup the entire year.

And as a backup, he finished tied for seventh in the NFL in
sacks, ahead of such stars as Jevon Kearse and Dwight Freeney.

But sacks are only part of the job -- a big part, obviously -- and
Suggs is eager to improve other areas of his game.

"I've gotten more confidence as a player, and my pass coverage
has come together," he said. "I'm playing well enough now that
they're confident enough to throw me out there on first and second
downs. It took a long time, but I'm getting it now."

Newman, the fifth overall choice in the draft, was followed in
the voting by Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett with six votes.
Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams received three, Chicago
cornerback Charles Tillman got two, and New England safety Eugene Wilson received one.

Suggs is the second Ravens linebacker to win the award; Boulware
got it in 1997.

He's also the third linebacker in the last four years to take
the honor, joining Brian Urlacher (2000) and Kendrell Bell (2001).
Last year's winner was Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers.