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Preseason Battles: Outside Linebackers

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When the Baltimore Ravens ended their 2011 season with that heart breaking defeat in New England no one knew that they would be starting the next season without both of their starting outside linebackers and three of their top run defenders. If we had known this, that missed field goal and dropped TD pass would have probably hurt even more.

Ever since that strip of Lee Evans on that perfectly thrown ball by quarterback Joe Flacco things have seemed to spiral downwards. Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot field goal to tie the game. We lost Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding in free agency. A Pro Bowl guard and two of the teams top run defenders.

Things started to look up a bit when OLB Courtney Upshaw fell into the Ravens lap during the 2012 draft. The Ravens brass had no idea how fortuitous the drafting of Upshaw was until shortly after that last seasons Defensive Player Of The Year Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon. Another one of the teams top run defenders bites the dust.

All of this commotion has opened up an intense training camp and preseason battle for the open outside linebacker positions.

So far the contenders are rookie Courtney Upshaw, third year undrafted free agent Albert McClellan, second round draft pick Paul Kruger and second round draft pick Sergio Kindle.

Kruger spent a lot of time on the field in 2011 as a situational pass rusher and is all but guaranteed one of the starting OLB positions. He will need to work on setting the edge in the run game and he will really need to work on dropping back in to pass coverage. Two things that Suggs was excellent at.

Upshaw was originally considered the favorite to start at the other OLB position but his recent injury has given Albert McClellan an opportunity to shine in his absence. The team would also like Upshaw to lose a few pounds before the season starts to help with his quickness in his pass rush.

Last season the Ravens turned to McClellan when Ray Lewis went down with an injury and he played well as an inside linebacker. If they feel that Upshaw isn't quite ready yet, maybe they could turn to him again to fill an area of need. For McClellan versatility is key and the more he can do the more he increases his chances of seeing the playing field.

As for Sergio Kindle, all those who have seen him have raved about his speed and energy but I think he will mostly be used as a situational pass rusher this season. Kind of like how they used Paul Kruger last season.