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Saturday, April 26, 2003
 
After restless night, things work out for Suggs
By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- In the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, out of a restless sleep in which he tossed and turned over virtually every inch of his mattress, Terrell Suggs bolted upright in his hotel room and began considering his options.

With the kind of knot in his stomach he typically inflicts on most opposing offensive left tackles, and the sinking suspicion that his draft status might be like a junk bond on nearby Wall Street, the standout Arizona State defensive end seriously considered packing his bags and bolting.

At about the same time, agent Gary Wichard, who had just arrived on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, was pondering a similar strategy for his client.

Corey Chavous on DLs
Corey Chavous
Chavous
It's a combination of need and talent, guys today are bigger, faster, more versatile and taking them in the interior can only help your team. There's been a run on tackles the last few years so I'm not totally surprised by this year's pace. Every year there seems to be a fad, in terms of position, where players are ripped off of the board because of their position. This year just happens to be the year of the defensive lineman. It can be bad for other position players because they are being pushed off the first day's board and they could be more worthy.

"And then we just figured, 'You know what? He's just too good a player not to be taken in the top 10.' And he decided to stick around and just see how it all played out," said Wichard.

After about 90 nerve-wrenching minutes for Suggs and Wichard in the backstage "green room," where prospects sit with their family members and friends as their futures are determined, things played out nicely, indeed.

Thanks in part to a botched trade attempt by Baltimore, which was trying to move to the No. 7 overall slot to choose Byron Leftwich, Suggs fell into the Ravens' laps. And while Ravens officials were somewhat miffed at a trade-up effort that failed when the clock ran out on them, no one was disappointed at the prospects of having Suggs roaring in off the edge, and pestering enemy passers from the team's 3-4 scheme.

Nor was Suggs. Relieved that his vigil had ended, he nearly hugging the air out of his mother. As a bonus, he'll be reunited with former Arizona State teammate Todd Heap, the Ravens' emerging tight end.

And he'll have the chance to line up a few steps to the right of Ray Lewis.

"That's a team that loves to play defense," said Suggs. "I mean, Ray Lewis sets the tone for everyone, and I think I can relate pretty good to what they do. I'm not going to sit here and make any kinds of (boasts), or take shots at the teams who passed on me, but this whole experience has put a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I'm looking forward to lining up with the guys they have there on defense."

In the past three seasons, Suggs notched 44 sacks, including a Division-I record 24 sacks in 2002. He also had 65½ tackles for losses.

The Ravens registered just 33 sacks last season, with Peter Boulware getting a team-best seven. Just nine teams had fewer sacks for the year. With defensive end Michael McCrary all but certain to retire and no real sack threat among incumbent linemen -- true front four players accounted for only 13 sacks for the Ravens in 2002 -- Suggs is a terrific fit.

Just like Boulware, he can rush from a two-point stance, standing up, or put his hand on the ground in the three-point stance. The Ravens won't worry for now where or how to play Suggs, or fret over the similarities between he and Boulware, and instead will focus on the fact they acquired a prospect who was far and away the premier sack man in the lottery.

"When you have good players," said general manager Ozzie Newsome, "you find ways to use them. Believe me, we'll figure out a way to get Terrell onto the field, and allow him to do what he does best."

For weeks, Suggs had reiterated that he hoped to be selected by the Arizona Cardinals, because he would have been able to play in the same city where he performed as a collegian. The Cardinals strongly considered taking Suggs with the sixth overall choice but, as had been predicted in the days leading up to Saturday, they dealt back with New Orleans for a pair of first-rounders.

No predictions. But I'll be disappointed if I don't go out and get double digits (in sacks) right out of the box. As far as all the talk about my 40 times, well, I can't remember that many times when I had to chase a quarterback for 40 yards.
Terrell Suggs, Ravens first-round pick

At that point, Suggs acknowledged, he had no idea where he might end up.

His demeanor, best described as a deep funk, brightened considerably when he heard his name announced by commissioner Paul Tagliabue. It was then he learned that the Ravens had served as his top 10 safety net.

Said Wichard: "Let's be honest, getting into the top 10 was a big thing for Terrell, no doubt about it. But in this league, it's about getting to a very good organization, too, and no one has a better track record in the draft than Ozzie Newsome in the last five or six years. It's a great place for my guy.'

It has been well-documented in the past month that Suggs, who doesn't even turn 21 years of age until halfway through his rookie season, ran pedestrian 40-yard times in his two workouts. Because of clockings in the mid- to high-4.8 range, some scouts questioned whether he had the explosiveness and quick-twitch first step they had seen in video study of him.

Baltimore scouts had no such concerns, feeling Suggs still possessed that rare, natural feel for compressing the pocket and closing quickly on a passer when he got to within sack range. Whatever his 40-yard time, Suggs knows how to "flatten out" or "corner," to take two terms from scouting vernacular, and he becomes like a heat-seeking missile when the opposition passer is in his crosshairs.

"No predictions," said Suggs. "But I'll be disappointed if I don't go out and get double digits (in sacks) right out of the box. As far as all the talk about my 40 times, well, I can't remember that many times when I had to chase a quarterback for 40 yards."

The well-rehearsed Suggs, taking advantage of the research over which his agent had pored last week, pointed out that Michael Strahan was clocked at just 4.91 seconds in the 40 at the combine. Hugh Douglas did a 4.73 time, Robert Porcher a 5.24, Simeon Rice 4.78 and Marcellus Wiley 4.83.

His point, echoed by Ravens representatives, was that you don't have to run fast to have natural sack skills.

"I'm not going to say exactly where we had (Suggs) rated," said a Baltimore scout. "Let's just say we got a guy at (the 10th pick) who was a lot higher on our board. To us, he was a steal, really."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.