SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after he sacked Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants in the second half during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Even if Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs stayed healthy, rookie LB Courtney Upshaw would be fighting for a starting position on the Ravens defense. With the loss of outside linebacker Jarret Johnson to the San Diego Chargers via free agency, Upshaw was thought to be headed into a competition with fourth-year veteran Paul Kruger.
Now due to Suggs being out most, if not all of the 2012 season with his Achilles Tendon injury, Upshaw figures to be in the mix to get the bulk of the reps in Suggs' normal position. While no one expects Courtney to replace Suggs' stats in year one, there is no reason to believe he can make an immediate impact on this defense despite being a rookie.
Taking a look around the league at some of the better defenses in the NFL,there is proof that he can be a force to reckon with from the first snap. Preceding him into the NFL over the past few years were rookie linebackers Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers), Brian Cushing (Houston Texans) and Clay Matthews (Green Bay Packers).
All three of these players made an immediate impact for their teams and quickly blossomed into stars from the time they hit the field. All three were named to the Pro Bowl in their rookie seasons and are now among the best linebackers in the league.
With so many stars already on this Ravens defense that the opposition must be concerned with, the opportunity for Upshaw to make plays and garner nice statistics are there for his taking. All he needs to do is soak up the knowledge of the players surrounding him, learn to watch tape from the best in Ray Lewis and clean up the disruption that will be caused in front of him by Haloti Ngata.
If Upshaw lives anywhere up to his potential, expect him not only to succeed, but flourish in his rookie season. With his experience at the outside linebacker position on the nation's best college team, playing in the best college football conference, Upshaw may actually have an advantage over Kruger to remain a starter once Suggs returns, be it this season or next.
While Kruger has the advantage of being with the team for three full years, he is still a work in progress, being utilized mainly as a pass rushing specialist. Having to play off the line, defending the run and dropping into pass coverage is not his strength and he will be virtually as new as Upshaw will be once mini-camps begin next week.
However, if the competition is close because both players begin to excel, then the Ravens will have a very pleasant decision to make as the year progresses and Terrell Suggs' return becomes imminent, which the sooner will be the better.