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Ravens veteran Terrell Suggs leads by example

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Terrell Suggs vividly remembers his instantaneous indoctrination into the Raven Way -- and his first taste of linebacker Ray Lewis' decidedly unsubtle leadership style.

After a brief contract dispute caused Suggs to show up two days late for his first NFL training camp, the loquacious pass rusher from Arizona State got a messy welcome in front of a live television audience.

"I was sitting back doing an interview on my first day, and I got a pie in the face," Suggs recalled Friday afternoon while standing in a hallway inside the Ravens' training facility. "It was Ray Lewis, and all he said was, 'Get to camp on time.' I just took it. What can you do? It was Ray Lewis!"

Fourteen years later, Suggs is the Baltimore player most likely to be the pie-thrower. As the last remaining link to the Ravens' esteemed defensive legacy -- an era bookended by Lewis-led Super Bowl victories a dozen years apart -- the force of nature known as T-Sizzle understands the importance of his elder statesman's role.

"There was a time where if you didn't live up to that Raven standard, you got checked immediately on the field in front of everybody," Suggs remembers. "And yeah, I have had to explain the facts of life on occasion. We don't have robots here, but we don't have all those personalities like we used to. We usually have a whole bunch of crazy (expletives). Myself, I'm a little f----- up. But a lot of the crazy people are gone, and we're not so much a veteran team as we are a young team."

Suggs, who turns 35 in October, is savoring the latter stages of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. As one of only three defensive starters from the team's Super Bowl XLVII roster (one of whom, safety Lardarius Webb, is now a backup), he knows how fleeting NFL success can be. Yet. Suggs likes what he's seen so far from the hype-deficient 2017 Ravens -- "Whenever you don't hear buzz about us, we have a really good year" -- and believes he can follow up an impressive bounce-back season (eight sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles) with an even more productive campaign.

"I feel great," Suggs says. "This is my first time coming into the season when I've felt really good about my offseason in a long time... since about 2011. I've had some injuries, gotten banged up, and haven't been able to work like I've wanted to.

"They brought in (director of performance) Steve Saunders to handle our strength and conditioning, and he's been really great for me. I stayed here over the offseason and worked out, and they had me doing a different type of training than I've ever done before. I was physically exhausted after every workout, and that was just the weights part. The run was a whole other beast."

For Suggs, simply being able to run was a victory in and of itself. After tearing his right Achilles tendon in May of 2012, Suggs returned that October and played a key role in the Ravens' title run. He followed that with double-digit sack seasons in 2013 and '14, only to be felled by a season-ending tear of his left Achilles in the 2015 opener.

Baltimore, which had gone into 2015 as a trendy Super Bowl pick, bottomed out with a 5-11 campaign, one Suggs likens to "being in Bane's prison... from Batman ("The Dark Knight Rises"). I had to watch my team in turmoil. Every week, losing by one or two points -- a play here, a play there -- and unable to help. It was heartbreaking. You work hard, you go through training camp ... only to get injured on the first day. It's like, f---."

It was a significant loss, as the presence of Suggs, who has 114.5 career sacks, transcends his production.

"I think he's leading by example," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said a couple of hours after Friday's training camp practice. "He's been here every day (over the offseason), killing himself in the weight room, and the guys follow him. He's a big personality, he's totally honest and is an iconic Raven. All of that makes him very, very important to us."

Suggs, however, says he's not filling the void left by the departures of future Hall of Famers Lewis (who retired after the Super Bowl XLVII victory over the 49ers) and safety Ed Reed (who spent 2013 with the Texans and Jets before calling it quits).

"It can't be filled," Suggs says. "You can't just call them greats; those are football gods. You'll never get another one of them. You can get imitations, you can get people that are similar to them, but they were so unique. Their off-the-field intensity matched their on-the-field intensity. That void can't be filled. I just try to be Sizzle."

Whether 2017 will be Suggs' final season in Baltimore -- or final season, period -- remains to be seen.

"I don't know how long I'll play," he says. "I don't want to cap it. But I also don't want to be naïve and be like, 'Yo, I'm gonna play 'till I'm 40.' ... and be out there trying to f------ pass rush.

"I do know this -- everybody that comes here from other teams, they tell me, 'Sizz, you've been on one team for 15 years. Not only is that impressive, but that's rare. It's crazy that you've never had to pack up your family and move.' I'm getting a notion of how important that is. It's nice to know."

Suggs knows only one way -- The Raven Way -- and he can still recall the unwanted dessert that served as his abrupt awakening.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.

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