There was a reason the Baltimore Ravens drafted Courtney Upshaw. The only surprise was the huge linebacker from Alabama (no surprise there) lasted until the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Whether it was age, need, skill, a player too good to pass up or the potential to replace Ray Lewis in the lineup, the thought of not having a guy like Upshaw was too much to resist.
And now, the former All-American and BCS National Champion must start playing like he did in Tuscaloosa.
In other words, with all the changes on this team after winning the Super Bowl, Upshaw must do his part.
Ray Lewis retired. Ed Reed is in Houston, Dannell Ellerbee is in Miami and Paul Kruger is in Cleveland. The Ravens defense is a shell of the one that won the Super Bowl last season. Bodies must be replaced, energy restored and hope renewed. It should not be placed on Upshaw’s shoulders, but he must make a statement this season.
Just for the record, he had 60 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the season.
If listening to fellow teammates mean anything, then this will be a year where Upshaw shows everyone he is a fixture not only on this team, but a standout in the NFL.
"I think Courtney is going to be stout for us, particularly where it's going to work out," Terrell Suggs said. "We're going to get him on the field as much as we can and as much as possible. He was huge for us last year, I can't explain how huge Courtney Upshaw was for us."
And Suggs wasn’t the only one.
"I think as a rookie, he played outstanding with the reps he had. He's a good run stopper. I think his football IQ is pretty good too. He's still learning and he's hungry and he's willing to work. And that's important,” Elvis Dumervil said.
Praise by your teammates can go a long way toward helping a player achieve his goals for a season. And in this season, Upshaw must step up his game and prove he is ready to take the next step as a Ravens’ defensive standout.