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Ravens select Bama's Courtney Upshaw

OWINGS MILLS -- Courtney Upshaw boarded a train from New York to Baltimore late Friday night, a short journey that delivered the latest defensive football player to the Baltimore Ravens' roster.

The Ravens were intent on upgrading a pass rush headlined by NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

And they wanted to reinforce a run defense left with a gaping hole after the departure of gritty outside linebacker Jarret Johnson when he signed a $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.

By drafting Upshaw, an imposing Alabama All-American outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the second round with the 35th overall pick obtained via a trade from the Minnesota Vikings, the defending AFC North champions are confident they've accomplished both goals.

As a run-stuffing presence setting the edge of the defense, the stout 6-foot-2, 272-pounder provides an accomplished, productive skill with his ability to anchor, shed blocks and make tackles.

"I think that's his specialty," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "That's one of the things that was so attractive about him. He plays like a junkyard dog. He has a strong punch. He's a physical, violent football player. We're excited about that.

"That's not an easy position to play. A lot of guys can't do that. A lot of guys can rush the passer. A lot of guys can drop and play in space, but setting the edge is really one of the most important things at that position. We feel this guy can do that."

Upshaw endured a long wait in the green room at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

He arrives in Baltimore after watching his Alabama teammates Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower and Dre' Kirkpatrick all went in the first round.

After trading out of the first round where they considered taking Upshaw with the 29th overall pick, the Ravens were still able to obtain Upshaw after passing over Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, Wisconsin center Peter Konz and University of Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn.

"The wait was a little frustrating at times, but I'm very excited and very happy to be chosen in the second round and by the Baltimore Ravens," Upshaw said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I wasn't shocked. I went into today kind of hoping that I'd be a Baltimore Raven. I can't do nothing but smile once I got the call.

"I started the tough-guy act going. My family would get teary-eyed. I didn't want them to see me getting down. Not down, but teary-eyed and crying and all that. I'm very excited and I'm ready to get it going."

Once projected as a lock for the top 10 overall selections, Upshaw's stock dropped as he had a sluggish Senior Bow l and didn't work out at NFL scouting combine due to tendinitis in his knee.

Upshaw wasn't thrilled with his campus Pro Day workout where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds and registered a 27-inch vertical leap and a 9-1 broad jump.

And the native of Eufaula, Ala., faced some scrutiny from NFL teams due to an arrest three years ago along with his girlfriend where he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and third-degree harassment. The case was eventually dismissed after Upshaw completed an anger management course.

The Ravens had a strong comfort level, though, with Upshaw.

General manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end who played for the late Bear Bryant for the Crimson Tide, knows the Alabama program and coach Nick Saban as well as anyone in the industry.

Ultimately, how Upshaw performed on the field mattered far more to the Ravens than how he performed for a stopwatch.

"When you talk about Courtney, there still is a game we call football and Courtney is a football player," Newsome said. "Obviously, he played at the alma mater of myself and I had the opportunity to watch him a lot. I'm sure if you would have asked us back in October, November if Courtney would make it to the third pick in the second round, everybody would have said, 'Probably not. He was a guy that we talked about at No. 29 also."

Upshaw recorded 141 career tackles, 36 1/2 for losses, 17 1/2 sack, 18 quarterback pressures, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Last season, he emerged as an All-American as he finished with 52 tackles, 17 for losses, 8 1/2 sacks and one interception.

Upshaw plays the game with a hard-nosed temperament, freeing himself from blockers and delivering some punishing hits. Operating in Saban's NFL style schemes, Upshaw has lined up as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt and as a rush outside linebacker.

He did his best work attacking the line of scrimmage rather than retreating into pass coverage.

"He is a really explosive player and heavy-handed," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "He plays hard, and he is versatile. He has played with his hand down and up, so he can stand up on two feet and play and then get down and play in the sub packages as a rusher."

Upshaw will compete with Paul Kruger for the starting strongside linebacker position vacated by Johnson.

For now, Kruger remains first on the depth chart.

"Obviously, it bolsters our linebacker situation," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think Paul is still the lead dog there. It will give us another pass rusher. There will certainly be tremendous depth. Obviously, it makes us more physical on defense."

Upshaw visited the Ravens and also participated in a private workout.

Now, he becomes a part of the third-ranked defense in the NFL from last season.

"I'm a tough, physical player," Upshaw said. "I feel like I'm relentless and I get after the ball. I'm a playmaker. At the end of the day, I'm a football player. I love the game."

Reach staff writer Aaron Wilson at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

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