Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw didn’t start in Monday’s win against the Cincinnati Bengals, but by the end of the evening, he had made his presence felt during his 29 snaps on defense. On Wednesday, Upshaw said he enjoyed every single one of them. And why not? In his NFL debut, the second-round draft pick totaled four tackles, picked up his first career sack and hit Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton once more.
“If I’m not starting, as you saw, I’m still going to try to come in and give a little energy and try to make plays. Honestly, me starting is not a big deal to me,” said Upshaw, who played 40 percent of the defensive snaps.
But if he keeps it up, Upshaw may be starting soon enough. Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan started at outside linebacker in the season opener, but they were mostly non-factors, combining to make just three tackles. With Terrell Suggs sidelined, they need someone to step up at rush linebacker, and Upshaw could be the guy.
Early in the fourth quarter of Monday’s blowout, when everyone in M&T Bank Stadium knew that the Bengals would be dropping back to pass, Upshaw ran a stunt with defensive end Pernell McPhee and quickly got pressure on Dalton. The quarterback initially stepped up to avoid the rush, but with nowhere to turn, Dalton was eventually swarmed by Upshaw and McPhee, who were both credited with half of the sack.
Upshaw feels he was close to getting Dalton on a couple of other plays but couldn’t get there. He joked that he was so eager for another sack, he considered jumping on a pile in the hopes that he would be given one.
“These guys are always preaching, try to get to the quarterback,” Upshaw said. “I know coming in, the big talk was about trying to replace Suggs. Like I said, I just want to come in and help the team any way I can, try to get a sack here and there or just hold the edge, turn the ball back in on a run play -- do some of the things that Terrell did.”
Not only does he hear those comparisons, he hears Suggs, too.
“Oh yeah,” the rookie said with a big grin. “There’s no choice.”
Suggs congratulated him on the sideline after his first sack. He attends every meeting and watches practice, helping Ted Monachino coach the linebackers. His booming voice echoes throughout the facility’s hallways.
But to his credit, Upshaw doesn’t seem to be consuming himself with trying to replace the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He is trying to get his weight down to 270, learn the playbook and earn more playing time each week. If he starts against the Philadelphia Eagles, so be it.
Either way, he will be tasked Sunday with trying to corral maybe the most elusive quarterback in NFL history, Michael Vick. Upshaw said the Ravens have been coached to keep Vick inside the pocket, where his legs can’t hurt them and where he made several poor decisions against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. Tyrod Taylor is doing his best Vick impersonation in practice, but that’s not the same experience as chasing the real deal.
“It’s Michael Vick,” Upshaw said. “Everybody knows his type of game and what he’s able to do.”
Upshaw is still a relative unknown, but we got a glimpse Monday of what he might be capable of.