Upshaw an unheralded but important part of Ravens' defense

OWINGS MILLS - Terrell Suggs is Terrell Suggs. Elvis Dumervil is Elvis Dumervil.
They are both big names, are both perennial Pro Bowlers and are both widely recognized as being two of the best outside linebackers in the NFL and important pieces of the Ravens' defense.
Courtney Upshaw isn't a big name. He doesn't have standout stats. He's not flashy in anything he does. But while his contributions may not show up on the stat sheet and he may not get as much attention on a national level as Suggs and Dumervil do, Upshaw is viewed within Baltimore's organization as an important player at outside linebacker to go along with Suggs and Dumervil.
"I think this guy is kind of unheralded in some ways because some other guys overshadow him," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "And that's OK because those guys deserve it, too, [but] Courtney Upshaw does a lot for our defense."
Upshaw, the Ravens' top pick in last year's NFL draft, has only 10 tackles in Baltimore's first five games, but he's listed as a co-starter at strong-side linebacker along with Dumervil and has been on the field for nearly 60 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Dumervil comes in primarily to rush the passer. Upshaw is in primarily because of the presence he provides against the run.
"Courtney has been a big part of what we're doing," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "He's playing at a really high level. He's been a football player from Day One. He's one of those guys that you have high expectations for as a high draft pick and comes in and fulfills those expectations.
"I'd say now even more. You understand what type of player he is. He's a physical player, and that's exactly how he's played."
Upshaw has just one sack, but he's been key in the Ravens having one of the top-ranked defenses in the NFL against the run so far this season.
"He makes our defense," Dumervil said. "He's our rock. He's the guy who anchors as far as setting the edge. ... He does the dirty work as you would put it. He knocks the tight ends around, sets the edges for us, and that's important.
"Whenever you're going to be a good run defense, you've got to be able to set the edge and [force] the runners to stay within the confines of the defense, and he's one of the best in the league at it."
Pees likened Upshaw's game to that of former Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.
"Upshaw does a lot of things behind the scenes that may not get caught by the media or the fans," Pees said. "But he'll set some things up for these other guys that are very, very good."
Upshaw is also versatile. He's primarily an outside linebacker, but he has also played some defensive end in certain packages and has even played some defensive tackle in certain pass rush packages.
He had a sack against the Miami Dolphins last week rushing from a defensive tackle spot.
"I'll tell you what, [he's a] typical Alabama guy," Pees said. "I'm going to give coach coach Saban some kudos. [Courtney's] smart. You can put him anywhere. You can play him anywhere, whether or not it's the best thing for him physically to play out of position, but you can move him all over the place. Sometimes you can't do that with guys. ...
"You can just do some things with him because he's such an intelligent football player. You ask him to do it, and he understands why you want him to do it. ... Football makes sense to him, and I just can't say enough good things about him."
Upshaw isn't the same level of pass rusher as Suggs or Dumervil. He has just 2.5 sacks in the first 25 games of his NFL career, including the playoffs. And whether it's been sacks, tackles or any other stat, he hasn't provided much that would warrant attention to this point of the season. But, like Johnson did for so long with the Ravens, Upshaw is proving valuable for reasons that don't show up on the stat sheet.
"We all want stats," Upshaw said. "But I just do what I have to do. If they ask me to go in and set the edge or go in and go on an inside rush, I'll do it. I love football. I like competing. So it don't matter to me. Whatever they ask me to do, I do it."

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