Last season the Baltimore Ravens chose to trade out of the first round to pick up additional picks. However, they were still able to select the player they wanted in projected first rounder Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw was a pass rushing outside linebacker at Alabama where he and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower were the leaders of the top rated defense in the country. When Upshaw reported to camp one of the first things noticed was his immense size.
Last season Upshaw played at 272 lbs. and was primarily used as a run stuffing defensive end/linebacker in Baltimore's defensive schemes. With the added weight Courtney didn't have that quick first step that made him a dangerous pass rusher in college. The Ravens didn't seem to mind because he shined in the run game and showed impressive natural football instincts, setting the edge extremely well for a rookie and shedding blockers with ease.
This season Upshaw has reportedly shown up at team OTA's with a bit more added weight. According to Russell Street Report senior analysts Tony Lombardi the weight he has gained is showing in all the wrong places. Lombardi was interviewed today on 105.7 The Fan on the Scott Garceau Show with Jeremy Conn.
The weight doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing depending on what position the Ravens are planning on using the second year pro. If Upshaw is going to be used more on the defensive line then perhaps the weight can help him get leverage against stout offensive linemen. However, if Baltimore is hoping to use the former Crimson Tide standout as a pass rusher or linebacker then he will need to shed the added pounds and get back to a more manageable playing weight.
After a rookie season in which Upshaw impressed Ravens fans and many of his teammates, a step backwards could be devastating to his young career. With the signing of Elvis Dumervil and several other young outside linebacker threats fighting for playing time he will have stiff competition to get on the field if he is not in tip top shape. The Ravens hope to see more from pass rusher Adrian Hamilton and defensive end Michael McAdoo this season.
The one area that many fans hope Courtney could make an impact is inside linebacker but in order to be successful at that position he would need to have the speed to go sideline to sideline with speedy running backs and perhaps drop into coverage with pass catching tight ends. Neither of these things seem possible even at his playing weigh last season. If Lombardi is right and he has added more weight, hopes that he could make the transition inside may be all but over already.
However, don't fret yet Ravens fans. It is only May 31st and Courtney Upshaw still has plenty of time to get in shape for the season. If he is able to get his weight under control then the sky is the limit for this young player. He has natural football instincts and plays the game with a relentless high tempo. Perhaps the weight gain is just a small set back after, what has surely been, an exciting Super Bowl champion off season.