With Baltimore’s selection of Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the 35th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the offseason competition for the starting spot vacated by Jarret Johnson just became a lot fiercer. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said that fourth-year player Paul Kruger still remains the frontrunner for Johnson’s old gig, but he’ll have to outperform Upshaw.
“Obviously it bolsters our linebacker situation,” Harbaugh said as team officials regrouped after a busy second round on Friday. “It gives us one more player in that mix. It allows us to move some guys around a little bit. I think Paul is still the lead dog there. He’s is the veteran guy.”
Earlier this month, Kruger said that he was excited for the opportunity to take over for Johnson, whom he called a friend and a mentor, as the team’s strong-side outside linebacker. Harbaugh had previously said that Kruger’s main competitor for playing time would be Albert McClellan.
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In a conference call Friday night, Upshaw said he is eager to compete for a starting spot, too.
“I don’t go into any situation thinking that I’m going to be behind a guy,” Upshaw said. “I’m going in there thinking that, hey, I’m going to in and compete. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I have a lot of high expectations for myself, so of course I’m going to go in and compete.”
In his final two years at Alabama, where played a hybrid outside linebacker role similar to what he will be asked to play in Baltimore, Upshaw racked up 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. But his ability to set the edge against the run will be critical as that dirty work was something that Johnson did with little fanfare -- outside of Baltimore, at least -- for the better part of a decade.
“Setting the edge is really one of the one most important things at that position and we feel this guy can do that,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said of Upshaw.