The Ravens bolstered their pass-rush by selecting Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the 35th pick in last week’s draft. It was their first selection, an indication for how serious they value his impending contribution.
Upshaw just became much more valuable.
Ravens pass-rushing star Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon the day after the team grabbed Upshaw, NFL Network insider Jason LaCanfora is reporting. Specifics aren’t yet available on Suggs, but he’ll likely miss the season. And suddenly, all eyes are focused on Upshaw, the former Crimson Tide defender who had 8.5 sacks last year.
After speaking with Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees about the loss of Junior Seau yesterday, we veered off topic and discussed Upshaw’s arrival in Baltimore. While Pees was cautious about being too hyperbolic, he did confirm the obvious when I mentioned how surprised I was that Upshaw fell to them.
“Hey, we’re happy,” Pees told me yesterday, before the news about Suggs broke.
Pees, in his first year as the Ravens’ coordinator, was clear that Upshaw will play outside linebacker for them, not defensive end — like Suggs (mostly) did — and one must wonder if he’ll simply fit right in where Suggs was. Paul Kruger and wildcard Sergio Kindle will also figure prominently.
Pees did his share of homework on Upshaw in the pre-draft process.
“I watched a lot of film on all those guys, all those guys from Alabama,” Pees said. “(The Patriots) got a good one up there in (Dont’a) Hightower, too. Those guys are really good players.”
Upshaw fits the mold of guys the Ravens feature, being hard-nosed and all. Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta had called him a “junkyard dog,” and Upshaw plays like one. Pees said they search for that.
“Well, I think you all do,” continued Pees, the former Patriots defensive coordinator. “We did in New England, too. Everybody wants that. Sometimes you may overlook it a little bit if a guy’s got a lot of talent, but yeah, we certainly hope that. That’s what we hope we get, besides a good player. We’re not going to take a guy just because he’s tough if he doesn’t have the talent, too, but you certainly hope he’s got the talent and the toughness. That’s what we certainly hope and think we got with Courtney Upshaw.”
Still, Pees is a wily veteran. It was clear he’s psyched about Upshaw, but he’s also been through this before. Pees knows not to celebrate a draft pick yet, even if it’s one everyone thinks is worth celebrating.
“It’s like recruiting in college,” Pees said. “When you get a recruiting class, there’s no one who’s going to tell you he had a bad recruiting class. Just like the draft. There’s no one to tell you they didn’t have a great draft, right? Thirty-two teams had a great draft. Hey, in about three years you can ask me that question. But yeah, I’m really excited about him.“