OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Sixteen years into his NFL career and just four months before his 36th birthday, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs darts around the field like a kid in a pickup game.
"I still love it," Suggs said Thursday at the conclusion of minicamp. "It's still my playground. That's where I get to be myself."
Football has never been a chore for Suggs, the Ravens' sack leader with 125 1/2. He works hard at his craft, but he perceives his rigorous off-season regimen over the past two years to be a small sacrifice to maintain a high level of excellence.
"We stepped it up," he said. "As you get older, you have to really listen to your body."
The results were on full display this week at Baltimore's mandatory minicamp. Suggs' arms bulged with muscles, and his quickness did not escape the notice of coach John Harbaugh.
"The guy is in phenomenal shape. He's at another level of conditioning," Harbaugh said. "He's on a mission, and I think he's headed for the Hall of Fame. I want to see that statement made this year, next year and for as long as he plays."
Former Ravens star Ray Lewis will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, and Suggs has a legitimate chance to join him there one day.
That, however, is not what motivates Suggs to perform at his best.
"One thing I learned from the Hall of Famers on this team is that they never really chased the Hall of Fame," Suggs said. "There was nothing more important than what they were doing at the moment. I can't practice every practice or play every play like, 'Oh, I'm trying to get into the Hall of Fame.' If it happens, God willing, it will happen. But that's not the No. 1 important thing in my life right now."
His goal is to get another Super Bowl ring. And, of course, to have a blast during that pursuit.
"I really couldn't picture myself doing anything else," Suggs said. "You know what they say: If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. So I'm pretty much still having fun as a kid."
Now entering his 11th season, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never known a time in Baltimore when Suggs wasn't there.
"I feel like he's 2 years older than me, yet somehow he's been in the league for 20 years," Flacco said with a grin. "It speaks volumes for what kind of person he is, what kind of player he is. He's a special player. I've definitely been lucky to be around a handful of those types of guys, and one of them is going into the Hall of Fame in a couple of months."
When Lewis approached the end of his career, he formally announced, "This will be my last ride," as the 2012 season approached its conclusion.
That's not Suggs' style.
"I'll never do that. I don't think I'll ever be able to say that going in," he said. "It will probably be one day, I'll wake up ..."
After a slight pause, Suggs added, "I don't think I'll never not love it. I didn't choose this. I was born, and this is what I am. We'll just take it one year at a time."
Someone asked Suggs, whose nickname is "T-Sizzle," whether there was ever a particular off-season in which he pondered retirement.
"Some of them I was coming off significant injuries or a down year, and you don't want to end it like that," Suggs said. "So when I was hurt, or didn't perform the way I wanted to, that never crossed my mind. It was, 'Nah, that wasn't a Sizzle year.' When that day does come, it will end on a Sizzle year."
NOTES: Flacco is the starting quarterback, but former Louisville star Lamar Jackson, drafted in the first round, took the majority of snaps at practice Thursday. "Putting the pressure on him to have to run the whole practice, operate the offence, was valuable. He handled himself pretty well," Harbaugh said. ... Flacco said he will find a time before training camp to hone the passing game with his new crop of receivers. "It's going to be a lot of fun. It will be good for us," Flacco said.
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