When the Baltimore Ravens traded out of the first round last week in the NFL Draft and picked up Alabama LB/DE Courtney Upshaw with the 35th pick, many Ravens fans criticized the move saying that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to select an impact wide receiver or other skill position to help quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense score points.
Little did they know that on Thursday, it was revealed that linebacker Terrell Suggs-the reigning defensive player of the year in 2011-tore his Achilles tendon last weekend and is likely out for the 2012 season.
Suggs may have ruptured the tendon playing pick-up basketball Saturday night-which could cost Suggs a chunk of his contract (at least a reported $250,000 this season)-should the Ravens go after him for a non-football injury.
That decision to draft Upshaw and go with the best player available looks a lot better now doesn’t it?
Upshaw, a 2011 First-team All-American for the Crimson Tide, was originally scheduled to be the backup to Paul Kruger at the SAM/strong side linebacker spot opposite Suggs.
He and Kruger were being relied upon together to fill the void left by longtime Raven and fellow Alabama-alum Jarret Johnson, who left via free agency for the San Diego Chargers.
But with today’s news, it shoots the pair to the top of the depth chart barring any other outside transactions from the Ravens.
And Upshaw told me today that even with the news of Suggs’ injury, it wouldn’t have changed his preparation of suiting up for the Ravens in 2012-his first year in the NFL.
“I was already coming in expecting to be a big part of this team,” Upshaw said this morning. “There’s no added pressure.”
Upshaw said that he’s been bombarded with messages today about “manning up” and “stepping up”, but he remained adamant that next week at rookie mini-camp is when the work begins for him, and that he is still going to come into this season with the attitude of not having a roster spot by default.
“I’m a grown man,” Upshaw said. “I was already planning on battling for a position.”
Upshaw said just getting drafted by the Ravens-especially being tabbed as their primary selection last week-carries with it a lot of trust and respect in its own that he has to build on.
“I just have to go out there and produce,” Upshaw said. “With me being the the 1st pick, I have to live up to it.”
“I’m determined to go out there and produce.”
Upshaw ironically played Suggs’ position on the Alabama defense and flourished in the role.
On top of being named an AP First-Team All-American after finishing with 51 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2011, Upshaw also came up big in Alabama’s National Championship win over LSU, recording a sack and winning the game’s defensive MVP award.
“I think about getting sacks all the time,” Upshaw joked.
Whether the Ravens decide to keep Upshaw at his natural position of rush-linebacker or decide to move Kruger-the converted defensive end-to Suggs’ spot so he can rush the passer instead, Upshaw said it doesn’t matter to him.
“Playing that position does sound a lot like I did at Alabama,” Upshaw said earlier in the week. “It wont be too much of a transition. I’ve already been looking at the playbook and I’m ready to go.”
But he knows that comes with a lot more work than just chasing down the quarterback.
“Playing that SAM position, I’ll be doing much more dropping back. The SAM and the rush are totally different. At the SAM, you have to know more of the defense’s concepts…there’s a lot more playing the SAM than the rush.”
Wherever Coach John Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator Dean Pees want him, Upshaw says right now he has a “Yes Sir” approach.
“I still have the same mindset,” he said. “If the coaches want me to play the rush-backer, I will go battle for it. I’m fine with that. And if they want me to continue being the SAM, I’ll learn the SAM.”
Upshaw made it clear that he didn’t want to let his coaches down.
And despite being new to the team and not having an opportunity to chat with Suggs, Upshaw did say that on a day like this, he knows how hard Ravens Nation is reeling right now at this news, and he wants to be there even more for the fans who know he was the right choice by Ozzie Newsome.
“The one thing I’ve learned in the last week on Twitter is that the fans really love their Ravens. I want to give [them] a good showing.”
WNST thanks Courtney Upshaw for his time and expects good things out of him this year! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!