Courtney Upshaw Could Fill Pass-Rusher Void

Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw battered Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last season.

Now he may have a shot at crushing many more quarterbacks.

With Pernell McPhee leaving for Chicago via free agency, Upshaw could see more snaps in third-down pass rushing situations, particularly from the inside like McPhee had.

"If he moves into the next spot then he'll probably be on the field more in third-down situations and passing situations," Head Coach John Harbaugh said at the owners meetings. 

In his three seasons, Upshaw has built a reputation as an elite run stopper. The Ravens' top draft pick in 2012 has split the starting role opposite Terrell Suggs with pure quarterback tormenter Elvis Dumervil.

Upshaw wouldn't replace Dumervil or Suggs in passing situations, but he could rush from the inside like McPhee did in Baltimore's heavy pressure packages. Upshaw played some on the inside of the defensive line before when injuries were a problem in 2013.

A glance at Upshaw's statistics may cause a furrowed brow when it comes to being a pass rusher. Upshaw posted 1.5 sacks in each of his first two seasons, then was held without a sack during last year's regular season.

He brought down Roethlisberger for his lone sack of the year in the AFC wild-card playoffs. The impact of the hit knocked Roethlisberger temporarily out of the game.

But pass rushing isn't all about sacks, and they can come in bunches. After all, McPhee had just 3.5 sacks in his previous two seasons before breaking out with 7.5 last year.

Despite limited snaps in pass-rushing situations, Upshaw was still creating pressure.

"He did a good job rushing the passer, especially toward the end of the year," Harbaugh said. "He doesn't have as many sacks – maybe he's a split second late or the quarterback gets rid of it – but he's had plenty of quarterback hits.

"We like Courtney as a pass rusher."

Upshaw has also proven he can grow into more of a pass-rushing role. In college at Alabama, he had zero sacks as a freshman, one as a sophomore, seven as a junior and 9.5 as a senior.

Even if Upshaw does see more time, the team could still draft a pass rusher in April. Suggs, 32, and Dumervil, 31, are each one year older and Upshaw is heading into the final year of his rookie contract.

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