By Edward Lee
7:00 AM EDT, July 27, 2012
As a rookie Courtney Upshaw is bound to make mistakes. But if the Ravens rookie outside linebacker erred in his first practice of training camp Thursday, inside linebacker Jameel McClain didn’t notice.
“I think there were [a few] mistakes out there for everybody at some point, but he didn’t really make any glaring rookie mistakes because he was always on his P’s and Q’s,” McClain said. “He knew where he had to go, and he got there and he got his job done.”
That approval brought a smile to Upshaw’s face, but in a sign that he understands his role as a rookie, Upshaw quickly downplayed the compliment.
“Yeah, I feel like I had a comfortable grasp. But anybody who knows me will tell you that I always try to get better,” he said. “If I feel I made a mistake or can do something better, I’m always on myself. They probably won’t see it, but I’m always telling myself that I’ve got to do better and try to improve on the next day’s practice.”
Upshaw enjoyed a successful senior season at the University of Alabama, leading the defense in sacks (8.5) and earning Most Valuable Player honors in the BCS national championship game against LSU. Projected to be a first-round pick in April’s NFL draft, the 6-foot-2, 272-pound Upshaw slipped into the second round, where he was swiftly scooped up by the Ravens with the 35th overall pick.
With outside linebacker Terrell Suggs still recovering from surgery to repair a torn right Achilles tendon and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson now a member of the San Diego Chargers, Upshaw has been penciled in as a starter opposite Paul Kruger. It would seem to be a daunting task for a rookie, but Upshaw said he doesn’t feel any pressure to replace Johnson.
“There are guys who were already here,” Upshaw said. “Guys like Kruger and Chavis Williams andAlbert [McClellan] who help me get better every day. I’m just trying to watch film and get better on my own. I’m not trying to replace anybody. I’m trying to be Courtney Upshaw.”
John Harbaugh seems to understand the anticipation surrounding Upshaw, but the Ravens coach said the linebacker can’t afford to be distracted.
“He is just trying to make sure he doesn’t lower the standard because he is learning,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all new for him. The pace of play is new. The defense obviously, the volume is new. So I don’t think you have to talk about [expectations] too much. It’s pretty self-evident.”
In addition to grasping the defensive playbook, Upshaw said one of his more immediate priorities is getting to the 270-pound level, which the coaching staff feels is ideal for him. Upshaw, who declined to say how much weight he must shed to reach that mark, said working in the heat and humidity of training camp should help him reach that goal.
“I feel good weightwise. I’m just trying to get down to the weight that they want me at,” he said. “You’ve got to be a pro about it, and I’m trying to get to the ideal weight that they want me at. But honestly, I feel good, but hey, they want me at a certain weight, and I’ve got to get down to it.”
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