It's all uphill for defense standouts

Not only is Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs planning to sit out of training camp, but he also has an enormous spare tire.

The good news for the Ravens? The spare tire isn't around Suggs' waistline but instead came from a tractor.

Suggs, the team's franchise player for the second consecutive season, has yet to sign his tender. He isn't allowing himself to get out of shape, though. Each weekday, he and other NFL defensive stars represented by agent Gary Wichard -- Tennessee's Keith Bulluck, San Diego's Antonio Cromartie and Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney -- meet for workouts as creative as they are grueling.

The tires come into play on "Strongman Hill," a dirt slope tucked into the Santa Monica Mountains, where there's always a shovel on hand in case of a chance rattlesnake encounter. Rather than simply running up the path, the players might have the waist-high, 75-pound tires tethered behind them, or strapped to their bodies, or flop them up the hill end over end. When they aren't pushing or pulling the waist-high wheels, they're pounding them with sledgehammers.

In March, the first time he got a look at a tire workout, Suggs didn't even try one. He spun on his heels, checked out of his hotel and returned to his home in Arizona. But Wichard eventually coaxed him back, and Suggs has warmed to them. Well, sort of.

"It's only fun when you've got a lot of people doing it," he said. "And Antonio has somehow mastered it. It's almost like a waste of his time now."

The tires are only a small part of the weekly routine, devised by Ryan Capretta, a former assistant strength coach with the Ravens and Arizona Cardinals who now works with individual NFL clients.

Part of the week is spent at Proactive Sports in Westlake Village, where the players do specialized weightlifting, and exercises such as push-ups with 90 pounds of chains draped across their backs.

They've also started spending part of their week at Bas Rutten's Elite MMA Gym, also in Westlake Village, where they receive mixed martial arts training from 12-time world kickboxing champion Hector Pena.

The players stay in hotels or with friends during the week, and usually return home on weekends. They begin each weekday by meeting with Wichard at his favorite breakfast spot, skipping the heavy meals in favor of bowls of oatmeal and egg-white omelets.

The goal for each, Capretta said, is continuing to develop their already freakish speed, explosion and endurance.

"We want them playing the same way in the fourth quarter that they do in the first," he said.

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Who needs camp?

Suggs, who eventually will sign a one-year deal that will pay him $10.2 million this season, doesn't feel the need to participate in training camp. He sat out of it last summer and wound up making the Pro Bowl.

"All last year I said that training camp is overrated," he said. "I know they didn't expect me to come out and have the season I did -- but I did. I took advantage of my ability to train longer. It's great when you have that extra time, when you're not out there beating up each other, and you're actually just working."

He said he felt fresher last season than any he could remember, and might have made it through the year virtually injury-free but for suffering a sprained shoulder while sacking Kerry Collins in a playoff game against the Titans.

That said, Suggs did feel just a tiny bit guilty about missing camp. But only because it meant that his fellow linebackers didn't get quite the break they might have in drills with one less player on the field.

"It's all right, though," he said. "The guys just let me take them out to eat when I got there."

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Bunch of Brady love

The Colts play host to New England on Nov. 15, and at least one Indianapolis defensive star is going to have to manufacture some bad feelings about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

"I like Tom," Freeney said. "There are very few quarterbacks I actually like. Tom is one guy who it's hard to hate him, if you know him personally. Just a good guy.

"You just have to make something up in your mind during the game to get you going: 'This guy hates me, hates us.' You have to come up with something to give you that extra push."

Normally, Freeney's dislike of quarterbacks rises like bile from his very core.

"I swear, I could write a book about how much I hate quarterbacks," he said.

"Think about a quarterback. . . . You've been babied all your life. You have your little red jersey or white jersey. 'You can't touch me.' Poster boy of the NFL. Biggest contracts, best cars, best girls . . . "

So Dwight, do you like Peyton Manning?

"To a certain extent," he said, easing into a smile. "He's still a quarterback."

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Patriots' sale had pop

It turns out there's a link between the King of Pop and the NFL dynasty of this decade.

As the Boston Globe's Mike Reiss pointed out this week, Michael Jackson indirectly played a role in Robert Kraft's buying the Patriots.

In 1985, Kraft took his first step toward his longtime dream of owning the Patriots by buying huge pieces of land around the stadium.

The Sullivan family, which owned the team at the time, put the franchise up for sale a year later but not the stadium.

Kraft, who wanted the stadium as part of the deal, passed on the opportunity, and Victor Kiam bought the Patriots instead.

But in 1988, the stadium became available anyway. Why? In part because, according to Forbes magazine, Charles Sullivan had used the venue as collateral to fund the Jackson brothers' Victory Tour in 1984.

Sullivan wound up over-leveraged and had to sell the stadium, which Kraft purchased.

So, now that he owned the stadium and the surrounding land, Kraft completed the process in 1994 by buying the team.

Oh, and Kraft also kept a Victory Tour poster as a memento.

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Tweet of the week

* (@NFLonTheHill) "Vikes owner Zygi Wilf on Hill yesterday 2 discuss serious NFL issues. Most often asked? from Members: is Favre going to be in Vikes camp?"

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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