After spending his rookie season splitting time with Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens OLB Courtney Upshaw figured that once Kruger signed a five-year, $40 million with the Cleveland Browns, the SAM linebacker position was his to play on a full-time basis.
That certainly didn't last long.
The blockbuster announcement that the Ravens have agreed to a contract with former Denver Broncos OLB Elvis Dumervil put Upshaw's position and certainly playing time is once again way up in the air. Upshaw had proven he deserved the chance to start after posting 60 combinations tackles, 1.5 sacks and added a key forced fumble in the Ravens 34-31 Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers last month.
Even when splitting time with Kruger, Upshaw got the majority of snaps, earning the right to play predominantly against the run. Kruger's inability to set the edge defending the run was Upshaw's luck, and he showed he was up to the task. However, the jury was still out on Courtney's pass rushing ability, with those 1.5 sacks nothing to brag about, although Kruger was the main pass rusher on that side of the line opposite Terrell Suggs.
With the Dumervil signing, odds are that Elvis will not be a situational pass rusher and will be expected to play the SAM position on a full-time basis. Dumervil's 11 sacks in 2012 and 63.5 in his six NFL seasons have earned him the right to have that position immediately handed to him.
So where does that leave Upshaw, whom the Ravens traded out of the first round but felt they still had a first-round talent when they took him early in the second round of last year's NFL Draft. Could Courtney be utilized as an inside linebacker in the Ravens current defensive scheme?
Is there a chance that Baltimore will go more to a 4-3 front seven, with Dumervil putting his hand in the dirt and Upshaw just off his hip at the OLB position? The additional free agent signing along the defensive line with Chris Canty and Marcus Spears gives the Ravens flexibility to use whatever defense they want based on what the situation dictates.
The retirement of Ray Lewis along with the defection of Dannell Ellerbe leaves both inside linebacker positions up in the air. The Ravens still have Jameel McClain, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan, among a few others, who could be part of the inside linebacker position.
There is also the chance that the team may still sign a veteran free agent linebacker, as well as look in what is considered a deep linebacker draft, for competition and depth. Either way, Upshaw was a key investment for the Ravens and they plan on finding a way to get him onto the playing field and keep him in the mix a lot more than he was last year.
The question now remains, how and where?