Baltimore Ravens

With Terrell Suggs' injury, Courtney Upshaw could be Ravens' next man up

Last weekend, the Ravens drafted Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw to complement Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But after today's unfortunate news, Upshaw might have to try to replace him -- if not at his position, then at least in terms of impact.

Suggs has sustained an injury to his Achilles tendon. It could be a tweak or a partial tear. Or it could also be a full tear, which would likely sideline him for all of 2012. Suggs will get checked out in a few days, and the Ravens asked for caution as they await an answer.

"We are in contact with Terrell. He will see a specialist early next week, and we'll know more at that time," the team said in a news release.

At The Sun Newsmaker Forum on Wednesday night, Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said, "It's hard for rookies to play right away," but he also added that given the draft status of Upshaw, the team's first pick (taken early in the second round), he was the rookie most likely to contribute right away.

And as Ravens coach John Harbaugh innocently and ominously pointed out at a news conference Saturday, "You are always one play away from being a starter anyway." The football Gods surely nodded.

If the injury to Suggs is as serious as the Ravens fear, they might have no choice but to rush Upshaw into the starting lineup. He was expected to compete with Paul Kruger for the starting strong-side linebacker job that used to belong to Jarret Johnson. Albert McClellan, who played well as an undrafted rookie in 2011, and Sergio Kindle, who is not guaranteed a roster spot for this season, were also supposed to be in the mix.

But if Suggs is sidelined for an extended period of time, the Ravens will have to introduce two new outside linebackers into their starting lineup. Kruger and Upshaw would be the frontrunners, though it's unclear who would take over for Johnson and which player would keep Suggs' position warm while he recovered.

The biggest challenge for Kruger this year will be proving that he can hold up against the run and be an every-down player. But for Upshaw, setting the edge was something he did well while starring for the Crimson Tide. He had 16.5 sacks in his final two seasons at Alabama, but he was more than a pass rusher. On Saturday, I asked Upshaw if he feels he can be an all-around player at the professional level like Suggs.

"I honestly feel I can be, but Terrell Suggs is Terrell Suggs, no other," Upshaw said. "I am just trying to come in and learn from him. I am sure he can help me out, become a better football player overall. The things he does and the position I am asked to play here, I want to come in and learn from the best, and Terrell Suggs is one of the best."

Now suddenly, Upshaw might have to replace one of the best as the Ravens chase the Lombardi Trophy. There will be some sleepless nights for Harbaugh and the rest of the organization until the extent of the injury to Suggs is known. But Upshaw should be preparing to start in 2012 -- if he wasn't doing so already.