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Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata Lead New Era Of Ravens Defense

Posted Mar 25, 2013

The two veterans believe the Ravens can still be a defensive team and are ready to lead it.


The two faces of the Ravens defense are gone.

Ray Lewis is retired. Ed Reed is a Houston Texan.

“This will definitely be a different era of Ravens defense,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata told BaltimoreRavens.com.

It’s not just Lewis and Reed, who spent a combined 26 years in Baltimore, that have departed. The Ravens also lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams, and parted ways with safety Bernard Pollard.

So who’s left?

The cornerstone of the Ravens defense now shifts, and it rests on the shoulders of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and Ngata. They have been in Baltimore since 2003 and 2006, respectively, and share a combined nine Pro Bowls.

They certainly aren’t alone, as cornerback Lardarius Webb, linebacker Jameel McClain and recent signees Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and other veterans will be leaned upon.

But Suggs and Ngata are now the elder statesmen.

“The foundation that our team was built on was defense,” Suggs said. “It started with Ray Lewis. Even though his era is over, we plan on continuing the tradition and playing really aggressive, physical defense.

“It’s going to look different, but please believe that we’re going to play with the same amount of intensity.”

Last year, Baltimore’s defense wasn’t as strong in years past, ranking 17th overall in average yards allowed per game (350.9). It was a steep drop from No. 3 the year before, and the first time Baltimore had been lower than tenth (and in the bottom half of the league) since 2002.

Thus, this offseason, the defense has undergone major changes in less than a couple months since winning Super Bowl XLVII.

Suggs and Ngata had varying levels of surprise about the Ravens’ losses.

In one sentence, Suggs said nothing in the league surprises him anymore after 10 years in the NFL. In the next he said he was “shocked” by Reed’s departure but that the league is a business. Suggs said he thought the Ravens would be able to keep one of their own free agents.

“You know it’s going to happen sometime,” Ngata said. “But for all these big changes to happen in a short amount of time after the Super Bowl, it’s kind of crazy.”

Suggs and Ngata are each coming off sometimes difficult seasons.

Suggs, 30, was limited to eight games because of Achilles and biceps injuries. He had just two regular-season sacks after notching 14 as the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Ngata, 29, was also limited because of shoulder and knee ailments. He missed two games and logged 51 tackles and five sacks.

In order for the Ravens defense to take a step forward, it will look for bigger seasons from the two marquee players. Head Coach John Harbaugh is anticipating it.

"Two guys I’m really excited about for next year are Terrell and Haloti because they battled injuries all year and they [still] played well," Harbaugh said last week at the owners meetings. "Those guys getting healthy, those guys are superstar players. That’s going to be big for us.”

The Ravens will likely field a younger defense in 2013 around Suggs and Ngata. Suggs pointed to second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw, cornerback Jimmy Smith, nose tackle Terrence Cody and safety Omar Brown as those who will need to step up next season.

“When one door closes another one opens,” Suggs said. “It gives some of the young guys on our team to show what they can do, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Replacing Lewis and Reed is more than plugging in somebody else on the field, however. The two were invaluable leaders at their respective positions and inside the locker room.

Owner Steve Bisciotti pointed to Suggs as the next leader, as well as Ngata and Webb.

“It’s got to be Terrell Suggs,” Bisciotti said. “There’s one thing about Terrell that I admire more than anything. … I was always impressed the way he deferred to Ray all the time. He couldn’t get through an interview without mentioning 'The General.' And so by virtue of his patience and humility in that situation, I think that people might not know what a great leader he is.”

Lewis was known nationally for his fiery gameday speeches. He always had the camera on him, getting his teammates ready to battle with his classic, “What time is it?” call.

But those in Baltimore, and inside the team, know that Lewis’ one-on-one conversations with players were just as, if not more, important to the team’s chemistry and growth. Lewis would take anybody, from an undrafted free agent to a star, under his wing.

That’s the type of leader Suggs says he will be. While certainly outgoing, he said he will lead via personal relationships with his teammates.

“Me and Haloti, we always considered ourselves amongst the leaders on the team. Once it was four [leaders] and now it’s down to two,” Suggs said.

“I don’t do the speeches. I’m a personal guy. I have personal relationships with everybody on the team. I lead by doing, by action, I lead in the huddle. The way I lead is not for cameras, so to say. I’ve got the personal relationship with guys to do a one-on-one.”

Ngata is much more quiet than Suggs, and has always been the leader-by-example type. Ngata said that with Lewis and Reed gone, he’s going to have to find his voice.

“I think I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone and be more vocal,” he said. “Especially if we’re going to have a younger defense, show them what it’s about and give them somebody to look up to. With what I’ve done in Baltimore and things I’ve accomplished individually, I think it comes with the territory. I’m definitely up for the challenge.”

With a new defensive cast, next season will present new challenges for the unit. The offense took another step forward last year, and largely led the team throughout the playoffs with an average of 31 points per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco received the richest contract in NFL history this offseason.

But Ngata and Suggs said that doesn’t mean that times have permanently changed in Baltimore, and that the Ravens are now an offensive-driven team.

“I definitely think we can still be a defensive team,” Ngata said. “I’ve always felt like that and still feel like that. We can build around me and Sizz and guys that have been here. We still have a good core group and we’ll still try to uphold it.”

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