The inside linebacker spot for the Baltimore Ravens is a mess heading into 2013. With Ray Lewis headed for retirement, Dannell Ellerbe leaving via free agency and Jameel McClain working his way back from a spinal cord injury, the position is sticking out like a sore thumb.
With the recent signing of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, there is one option that the Ravens could consider to put their needs on the inside at ease: transition outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to the interior.
Even Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees didn’t brush off the idea when asked about it during a radio interview with 105.7 The Fan.
“You never know,” Pees said. “The way we teach this defense, all the [linebackers] have to know all four spots… because, again, I’ve always told these guys that I don’t want a good player standing on the sideline by me with a player out there on the field that I don’t think is good enough because you can’t play another position. So, our guys have always learned a lot of different spots.”
Pees insisted that there would be plenty of snaps to go around between Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Upshaw on the outside. If the talent isn’t there on the inside to start the season, though, a move for Upshaw doesn’t appear to be out of the question.
During his first year with the Ravens, Upshaw was phenomenal against the run and a pleasant surprise in coverage. Although he only racked up 1.5 sacks, he tallied 60 tackles and graded out as Baltimore’s best run defender according to Pro Football Focus. From start to finish, Upshaw consistently made impact plays and was a key component in their Super Bowl XLVII victory.
More than likely, the Ravens will find someone via free agency who can act as a stop-gap at inside linebacker. A few names come to mind, including Karlos Dansby and Bart Scott. If the Ravens fail to find a capable replacement, though, Upshaw has the physical tools, instincts and athleticism to succeed inside and proved in 2012 that he doesn’t belong on the bench.
The Ravens need Upshaw on the field, even if that means moving him inside and letting him take over the role that Lewis has filled for so many years.