Backin 1996, head coach Ted Marchibroda approached Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and asked him to find him some players who had a passion for the game. When the Ravens drafted some kid named Ray Lewis from the University of Miami, with the 25th pick in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft, he didn't quite fit the mold of the linebacker, but became the Ravens "prototype."
According to a story on NFL.com by Ian Rapoport, Newsome said of Lewis back then:
"That led us to Ray Lewis, who actually didn't fit the height, weight and speed (standards), but he just enjoyed playing football and made all the plays," Newsome said. "And we started to build from that. This division has been a physical division, even when I played in it. So, when you match physicality with passion, along with height, weight and speed, now you get a picture of what we look for in players."
Did the Ravens hit the draft jackpot again with the same sort of player in Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw? Newsome watches the same tape as everyone else, but it's obvious he sees things that others can't see, cannot be measured with a stopwatch or a scale, but many times has proved to be the difference between good and great.
Upshaw seems to possess those rare qualities of the combination of the measurables (size and speed) as well as what perhaps Ozzie's playing days has him able to see inside of a player's head and heart: The unmeasurables, such as the passion for the game.
Lewis had it, which is part of the reason he "fell" to the Ravens late in the first round. Ozzie saw the passion. Ed Reed had it, which is why he also fell to the Ravens in 2002. Terrell Suggs had it, which is why the Ravens grabbed him early in the draft after other teams hesitated or passed on him.
Courtney Upshaw was at one point not only considered first-round talent, he was thought to be worthy of as high as a top-15 selection. The Ravens traded out of the first round and still were able to get him early in the second round. Something tells me there was a lot of "high-five-ing" going on in the Ravens War Room once the pick was announced.
Upshaw's skills were on display this past weekend at the team's initial Rookie Camp and while this is not a good indication of what he will do when the veterans are lined up with and against him, it definitely showed off the passion he brings in addition to his obvious skills.
If Ozzie continues to see what others seem to miss, not only will the team and its fans be really pleased with Courtney, the rest of the league could be mourning the fact that they by-passed this guy who could shortly become, as the story says, "another prototypical Raven."