OWINGS MILLS, Maryland — As he prepares for his 13th NFL season, Terrell Suggs is beginning to realize that the shelf life of a hard-hitting outside linebacker is somewhat limited.
Suggs is only 32, yet he understands there will soon come a time when he won't be spending fall and winter chasing down quarterbacks for the Baltimore Ravens.
"You just kind of take it year by year and see what you can do," Suggs said Tuesday, the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp.
Last season, Suggs started all 16 games and had 12 sacks to help the Ravens reach the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, he can't keep doing that forever.
"Well, I'm definitely on the back nine," Suggs said. "You can't say, 'Oh man, this is Suggs 2011 even though he had a good year last year.' Things change and situations are different, I see things different. How I'm preparing now is different. It's different now. Thirteen is definitely different."
In more ways than one. Now that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are well into retirement and Haloti Ngata has been traded away, Suggs is the face of the Baltimore defense and its unquestioned leader.
"I've never had a problem with that," he said. "I'm just going to be myself and hopefully the guys will follow my lead and we're going to do great things."
When the Ravens introduce their defense at home games, Lewis was always the last player on the list. That honor now belongs to Suggs.
"Terrell Suggs is definitely a huge part of this team, a huge leader on this team. Emotional leader, vocal leader," coach John Harbaugh said. "Great football players. He's going to be a leader. He's always going to lead and he always has."
Suggs' accomplishments make him a worthy heir to Lewis as the key player on a defense that has long been known for its grit and nastiness. He's the franchise career sack leader with 106 1/2, has been selected to six Pro Bowls and was part of the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl championship team.
"You have to respect what he's done," Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl champion. Over 100 sacks. To me, that's Hall of Fame-type criteria."
Suggs looked frisky and quick at practice, although he promised the best is yet to come.
"Usually around this time I'm ready to go. I didn't want to stress about anything coming in," he said. "I just kind of wanted to let my body heal, take a little time. ... I'm definitely not at my fighting weight. I'm at my walk-around weight. This is year 13 for me. I can't really be stressing. I think, come July I'll be ready to go."
Even if he's not as quick or agile as he once was, Suggs can tap into the knowledge he's gained playing the game next to Lewis and Reed.
"He's a student of the game, more than his physical gifts," Dumervil said. "I think he's a really smart player and at this point, even if his physical skills start to diminish, that will carry him a lot because he's a smart football player."
Suggs isn't ready to be counted out yet. He just wants to rack up another 16 starts and maybe about 16 more sacks before deciding what happens next.
"I'm a young 32," he said, "but 13 years in the NFL is still 13 years in the NFL. ... At the end of this year, we'll talk."