When it comes to the outside linebacker depth chart for the Baltimore Ravens, two names come to mind: Terrell Suggs and newly acquired star Elvis Dumervil, who are projected to be one of the top pass-rushing tandems in the league. However, there is another name that needs to be brought into consideration when looking at the Ravens’ outside linebacker position; Courtney Upshaw is primed to turn heads this season, even as the third outside linebacker on the chart.
Upshaw had a lot of pressure put on him as a rookie because of Terrell Suggs’ Achilles injury in 2012. Upshaw was immediately put in the spotlight because although he was a second-round pick, he was the Ravens’ first draft selection that year. Fans and coaches expected immediate impact because of his constant production under the direction of Nick Saban at Alabama. During his tenure with Alabama, he was able to rack up 141 tackles, 17.5 sacks, one “pick-six” and six forced fumbles. These noteworthy numbers were enough to put confidence in his ability to fill in while the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year was rehabbing.
Most fans will tell you Upshaw did not live up to expectations; however, I will tell you he did his job: he filled in. Upshaw was by no means a “Suggs,” but he always managed to find his way to the ball-carrier. In fact, not being a “Suggs” was by design. Upshaw’s upside is his raw power and strength, which he uses to push through linemen, while Suggs uses his agility and technique to slip by linemen on his way to the quarterback. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees both realized this as the season went on; they found a way to use Upshaw’s strength to their advantage by putting him on the inside to push the guards around.
Harbaugh made some harsh comments on Upshaw’s eating habits this offseason as reported by ESPN.com, “Courtney eats too much and he doesn’t eat all the right foods.” Although Harbaugh spoke to Upshaw’s weight negatively, that does not take away the faith Harbaugh has in the talented second-year player. If Harbaugh calls a player out via the media, then you know he truly cares; if he’s not speaking to media about them and they just so happened to fall down a depth chart, then is when a player should worry. Harbaugh wants to see Upshaw excel in this league and will push him to his potential.
The Ravens’ run defense was ranked 20th in the league in 2012; look for Upshaw to be the reason it returns to greatness. The physical prowess displayed by Upshaw in the Super Bowl speaks to his future potential to dominate; he managed five tackles and a forced fumble, which was recovered by the Ravens. His ability to move inside to defensive end or play outside linebacker display the reason for his team wanting to keep him on the field. Keep your eyes peeled for this exemplary player to stand out in 2013.