OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Don't let Terrell Suggs' mischievous smile, devil-may-care demeanor and playful nickname fool you. Underneath all that fluff is a serious football player, one who stands out as the unquestioned leader of the Baltimore Ravens defense.
Now in his 15th season, the Ravens' career sacks leader is the lone remaining star from a renowned unit that once featured All-Pros Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata.
"It's a new era of Ravens. Yeah, I'm the (Darth) Vader of the group, the last of my kind, but I like that," Suggs said Thursday. "I'm very fortunate to be the last piece of that transition. It's a good feeling, but it's also exciting to see these young guys trying to make a statement."
Whatever statement the Ravens defense makes in 2017, it will likely be uttered by Suggs, a trash-talking linebacker with the skill and smarts to back it up.
"Suggs has been a leader on this defense for a long time," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "I think sometimes people didn't always see it with Ray and Ed around, but he was a leader even when those guys were here."
For most of his career, Suggs would spend the offseason working out on his own. In 2012, he tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball.
This year, he was an eager participant in the conditioning program at the team complex, running and lifting weights while jabbering alongside his teammates.
The result was profound. Suggs breezed through the three-day minicamp that ended Thursday and appears to be in excellent shape.
"I waited until Year 15 to actually give it a try, and it worked out pretty good," he said. "I haven't felt this good in June in years."
Said Pees: "The guy looks renewed, as good as I have ever seen him look."
Inside, though, it's the same old Suggs.
"I only know how to be Sizzle," he said, grinning. "Everybody else is taken, so I might as well just be myself."
At 34, he's the oldest guy in the room. And he's OK with it.
"It's an unusual feeling for me because I'm usually the big kid, you know what I'm saying? I like it, having fun with the younger guys," Suggs said. "They say, 'What year were you drafted?' And I'll say, '2003,' and they'll tell me how old they were at that time. And I say, 'Holy ..."
He finished the sentence with an expletive, right in front of the cameras, but that's Suggs.
Well, that's one side of him, anyway.
"The guy comes out here to play and do a profession where he has fun every day, and he is going to make it fun," Pees said. "You can really tell a difference in our types of practice when he is here and when he is not here. It is more fun for me when he is here, too. But, when it is time to be serious, there is nobody more serious. There is really nobody smarter on this defensive football team than Terrell Suggs."
Safety Eric Weddle, now in his second season with Baltimore, took great delight in seeing Suggs grind it out in the weight room this summer.
"We need him. He's an impact player, he's our leader," Weddle said. "He's a once-in-a-generation type player who, when he's on the field, is a difference maker. It's been a huge plus to our team to see one of the all-time greats working every day."
Lewis went 17 years before slipping into retirement, and Suggs has reached the point in his career where he's getting questions about when it all might end.
The answer: Don't expect an announcement anytime soon.
"As long as you can keep going, keep being productive and keep getting better every year, then you can keep doing it," he said. "But time is undefeated. I think when it's time to cross that bridge, we will. I don't think it's the time, yet."
Sure doesn't seem that way.
"I have never seen a more motivated Terrell Suggs than we have right now," coach John Harbaugh said. "He has put an incredible amount of work in. I think that he is going to be in the best shape of his career, even at this stage of his career. I'm looking forward to seeing how he plays."