You at least have to give young outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw some credit in acknowledging that he’s fighting weight issues and “it’s not a good look” to come into the various minicamps for a second straight year out of shape. There are plenty of players that won’t even do that, no matter how obvious it looks. Before participating in teammate Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game yesterday, Upshaw told reporters, including my colleague Aaron Wilson, that he currently weighs 285 pounds, which is at least 15 pounds heavier than he played at last season. Upshaw admitted that he’s had some “personal issues” that have prevented him from fully devoting his time and attention to working out. It would be unfair to crush the guy without knowing what he’s dealing with on a personal level. However, I think it is fair to point out that questions about his work ethic caused Upshaw to slide into the second round of last year’s draft. And when he reported for last year’s offseason activities, he was heavier than team officials had hoped. This is a big training camp for Upshaw, too. The Ravens signed Elvis Dumervil, relegating Upshaw to a reserve role. Upshaw remains very much in the team’s plans, but he’s going to have to earn his defensive snaps and coming in out of shape is probably the quickest way to earn time in head coach John Harbaugh’s doghouse.
Aside from obvious situations with their best and highest-profile players, the Ravens traditionally don’t publicly anoint starters long before training camp begins. However, defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ comments Friday that inside linebacker Jameel McClain will be a starter when he’s healthy shouldn’t come as a surprise. For one, McClain is really the only experienced option that the Ravens have at the position. But even beyond that, McClain is an extremely well-liked teammate who other players in the locker room listen to and respect. With all the talk about the defensive leadership that the Ravens lost, McClain, who has yet to be fully cleared from the spinal cord contusion that ended his 2012 season, is one guy capable and comfortable with inheriting a more vocal role. He also takes great pride in trying to uphold the Ravens’ defensive tradition.
This is a big week for the 2012 Ravens as the Super Bowl champs will be honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday and then be feted at a private ring ceremony on Friday. It will be interesting to see how many former members of last year’s team return to take part in the festivities. Safety Bernard Pollard, who was let go by the Ravens, has already made his feelings known and said that he will not be attending. But I’ve heard nothing definitive on Ed Reed or Anquan Boldin among others. Everybody has their reasons and some players, including current Ravens, undoubtedly have prior commitments that will keep them from attending. But you hope who isn’t there doesn’t detract from the purpose of the events, which is to celebrate – essentially one last time before the start of the 2013 season – last year’s team and its accomplishments.
It will also be interesting to see whether some of the established veterans, who have not been participating in voluntary organized team activities, will take part in this week’s sessions because they are already in town. This week’s OTAs will be the last ones before next week’s mandatory minicamp. Among the players who have yet to participate in OTAs – at least the two sessions open to the media – are fullback Vonta Leach, guard Marshal Yanda, linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and defensive end Chris Canty. Canty, who is coming off a knee injury, has been at the team facility the past couple of weeks.
There wasn’t too much to gain from a reporter’s standpoint at last week’s OTAs but three guys that continue to make positive impressions are tight end Ed Dickson, rookie nose tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith. Dickson has been extremely active and has made some tough catches. Williams is just huge and he moves pretty well for a big man. And Smith just looks so much more comfortable and confident. He says he’s lost 10 pounds and he certainly looks leaner and like he’s moving really well. For all the knocks on Smith, he was clutch in the Super Bowl and it’s clear that he’s intent on building on that. Assuming Webb returns healthy, the Ravens should be pretty set at cornerback with Webb, Smith, Corey Graham and Chykie Brown occupying the top four spots. Veteran Chris Johnson,
second-year player Asa Jackson and rookies Marc Anthony and Moe Lee will also compete for spots.
This qualifies as old news but the Ravens officially picked up $2.5 million of salary cap space over the weekend because of their release of Pollard with a post-June 1 designation. They are now just over $4 million under the salary cap. A bit of that room will go to signing safety Matt Elam and Williams, the only two remaining unsigned draft picks, but the Ravens still will have enough left over to address an area of need. I would think at some point that the Ravens will either trade or sign an experienced wide receiver or add some depth at middle linebacker.
Thankfully, the fallout following agent Joe Linta’s comments to USA Today that the Ravens were “dumb” not to sign his client, Joe Flacco, before last season finally appears to be over. I see no reason to revisit the situation but I do find it humorous that there is a perception that the Ravens are overwhelmed with regret about how this is all worked out. Sure, it cost them a lot more money than it would have if they had signed Flacco to a contract extension six or seven months earlier. But do you think any of their top decision makers are losing any sleep over it? Exactly four months ago today, they watched a motivated Flacco lead the team to a Super Bowl. I’d say it worked out fine for both sides.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun