Baltimore Ravens: Breaking Down Courtney Upshaw's Role

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Baltimore Ravens: Breaking Down Courtney Upshaw's Role
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Shock waves were sent through the NFL when the Baltimore Ravens announced their star pass-rusher Terrell Suggs would be out for an extended period of time with an torn Achilles injury suffered while playing basketball during the offseason.

Suggs was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year last season because of eye-opening statistics he produced, most notably his 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions.

He was the lone player the Ravens defense couldn't afford to lose in my opinion because of the problems he causes for blockers not only in pass protection, but when blocking for the run as well. 

The impact Suggs had on the game was significant in the way offensive lines had to adjust their pass protections in an effort to block him.

Teams would commit a tailback from the backfield to deal with Suggs, asking the back to "chip" Suggs' outside shoulders to hit him back to the inside where the offensive tackle was. By doing this "chip," Suggs is slowed down and has to go to his pass-rush repertoire to get by the tackle.

Another way teams deal with Suggs was by assigning two blockers to him by executing a "half-slide," meaning the tackle and guard slid to Suggs' side and what this did was allow the offensive tackle to kick-slide further to the outside to deal with Suggs' speed while the offensive guard protected the inside.

When this occurred, it created one-on-one matchups across the board for his teammates, such as outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson, who left for San Diego in the offseason. 

Now the Ravens are forced to rely on other pass-rushers that weren't nearly as productive, such as Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle.

Kruger has versatility in the ability to play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end (in both fronts) while also being able to stand on his feet in a two-point stance and get downhill as he did at the University of Utah.

There's also the 35th overall pick in the draft, Courtney Upshaw, that's in the mix.

Upshaw, a fierce Alabama defender, fell in the draft because of rumored character concerns that appeared during interviews prior to the draft as well as his lack of explosive artificial numbers at the Combine.

However, there was little doubt in the process that he had the talent to play in the NFL at a high level, which is why GM Ozzie Newsome took him early in the second round.

Upshaw's role with or without Suggs in the lineup hasn't changed.

The Alabama standout is still expected to be a strong-side linebacker and/or defensive end in Baltimore's hybrid 3-4/4-3 front. He's expected to be able to hold up against the run by "setting the edge" and forcing ball carriers back inside to the teeth of the defense. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Upshaw is also expected to provide pass rush off the edge, which he did very well at Alabama by utilizing his good quickness off the edge and exceptional lower body strength by sinking his hips and administering a bull rush on pass-blockers. 

The biggest difference in Upshaw's role now that Suggs is expected to miss an extended period of time is the matchups that he likely won't have.

He's unlikely to receive the same amount of one-on-one matchups he likely would have with Suggs in the lineup and because of this, it's likely to be more difficult for him to apply pressure on quarterbacks. 

Despite this, I still expect Upshaw to apply some pressure on quarterbacks because of his strength and quality hand use.

Upshaw does a good job of getting inside the breast pads of blockers and successfully applying a bull rush as well as slapping the hands away of the blocker quickly and getting by them with his quickness. 

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