Head Coach John Harbaugh has preached it since he took over.
The starters are going to be the best players. It doesn't matter if you're a top pick or an undrafted rookie free agent.
Harbaugh raised that philosophy again in training camp when discussing the competition at outside linebacker opposite Paul Kruger. The starting job is not automatically Courtney Upshaw's.
Former practice squad player and undrafted rookie free agent Albert McClellan!(/team/roster/albert-mcclellan/8b135860-5746-4a8d-bcb5-22dae94b6825/ "Albert McClellan") is competing for a starting gig.
"[McClellan's] done nothing to make you think that he couldn't be a starter, the way he played and the way he practiced," Harbaugh said Saturday. "He's played really, really well. That makes it interesting."
Upshaw is back on the field after missing seven practices due to a shoulder injury. But he's still limited in 11-on-11 work and isn't sure whether he'll be cleared to play in Friday's preseason home opener against the Detroit Lions.
On top of that, Upshaw has said the coaches want him to shed some weight. As of Sunday, he said he's five pounds away from his target weight.
Upshaw got a lot of snaps during Organized Team Activities and minicamp, but his absence from training camp has somewhat delayed his progress. Regardless, Upshaw's not worried about his standing.
"I'm not really feeling any pressure," the second-round pick said.
"It's just all these guys are here fighting and I knew that coming in after they drafted me. But they just want me to get back to fight with them. Honestly. I just want to get back on the field. It's not even about competing with [McClellan]. I just love the game so much and I want to be out there playing the game of football."
McClellan has slowly grown his role on the team. The former defensive end at Marshall came to Baltimore as a pass rusher, and spent a year on the practice squad learning various linebacker positions.
He played in all 16 games last year and led the team in special teams tackles. McClellan started for injured inside linebacker Ray Lewis on Thanksgiving last year, and made four tackles in a 16-6 victory.
While McClellan doesn't flash much at practice, his name is frequently heard in coaches' shouts of praise. He does a good job setting the edge, and Harbaugh called McClellan a smart, versatile player.
Told of the coach's kind words, McClellan said, "I'm just working, getting by day by day."