Ravens Rookie LB Courtney Upshaw (photo credits: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE)
All around Baltimore, football fans are lamenting the loss of Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for most, if not all of the 2012 season. Suggs tore his Achilles Tendon, depending on what the true story ends up being, playing basketball or running conditioning drills. Suggs believes he will be back before the end of the season, but most medical experts think that might be more of a medical miracle than he might want to believe.
Either way, the Ravens know they have to truly become the classic definition of the term, "next man up." When the team drafted Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, many applauded the pick, knowing there would be a question as to whether fourth year veteran Paul Kruger could take over that position full-time and be more than just a situational pass rusher.
Now, it appears that the Kruger experiment will continue and Upshaw will be fast-tracked to start immediately in Suggs' place. The Ravens also have outside linebackers Albert McClellan and Sergio Kindle on the roster and while both could step up in some capacity, there is no question the Ravens will prefer to see Upshaw step up and make a rightful claim to that position starting next week at the team's first mini-camp.
The question on everyone's lips is, can Upshaw begin to replace the productivity that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year provided, disrupting defenses not only when passing, but running as well. Due to Suggs' pass rushing prowess, he was extremely under-rated as a run-stopping force, with ten TFL's (tackles for losses).
Suggs finished the 2011 regular season with 14 sacks to go along with those ten TFL's. While not comparing the college to the pro game, Courtney Upshaw had similar statistics while playing for the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide, netting 9.5 sacks and 18 TFL's in just 13 games.
Would it be premature to believe there is every reason to expect that Upshaw will become Suggs 2.0? Both guys are built similarly, Suggs listed at 6'3" and 260 pounds and Upshaw at 6'2" and 272 pounds. More interestingly is that while the Ravens felt Upshaw was a top-15 talent that slipped to them based off of a disappointing Combine, the same can be said for Suggs, whose slow 40-yard dash time disappointed the Arizona Cardinals enough in the 2003 NFLDraft to pass on drafting him when most expected them to select their hometown star. The Ravens swooped in and grabbed him with the 10th pick in the first round.
Coincidence? I think not. With a full spring and summer of mini-camps, Upshaw will have the benefit of learning from the best. Suggs should still be able to mentor the rookie and you just know that Ray Lewis will have him under his wing watching tape and explaining the pro game to him. If there is any defense that will allow a rookie with Upshaw's skills to not only succeed but flourish, it's the Ravens.
Furthermore, without Suggs, opposing offenses will not know where the pressure will be coming from early in the season and therefore, teams will probably not be in max-protection schemes. This will put more pressure on the Ravens corner-backs to cover longer, but it will also give an advantage to the pass-rushers to get to the quarterback with less protectors and double-teams.
It's ludicrous to expect a rookie to replace the results that they got from a nine-year All-Pro, but there is every reason to believe that Courtney Upshaw will become the next great Ravens linebacker and perhaps even Suggs 2.0.