When Courtney Upshaw was drafted the day before Terrell Suggs injured his Achilles tendon, pundits spoke about how fortuitous it was for the Ravens.
After having the reigning Defensive Player of the Year go down, the top pick would step into Suggs' starting role. Right?
Hold up a second.
"You've got to earn your stripes," Head Coach John Harbaugh said this week.
"You have to earn your position here no matter what. I don't know why a lot of people would think that [Upshaw would automatically start]. That's pretty presumptuous. The best guys play. The guys who are playing the best are the best."
Upshaw is in competition with third-year linebacker Albert McClellan, who as of now appears to have the leg up. And that's no surprise to the rookie.
"Ever since Day 1, I always told everybody I'm coming to compete," Upshaw said.
"I'm a realist. I can't come in and be like, 'Oh I've got the starting job,' because I know guys here played college ball and they're also good. They wouldn't be here if they weren't able to learn the defense or they weren't productive, or the coaches didn't see something they like."
Harbaugh raves about McClellan.
McClellan has been the starting outside linebacker in the first two preseason games. He's also taken the lion's share of the reps with the first team in practice.
"He's a guy that competes every single day," Harbaugh said. "His work ethic is as good as anybody's. He doesn't say much. He just goes out there and does his job, and he is playing at a really high level."
Upshaw was taking the majority of the first-team reps during minicamp. But a shoulder injury forced him out of seven practices and the first preseason game.
He has slowly worked his way back, getting limited reps in practice and games. Upshaw said the coaches have been trying to make sure he doesn't reinjure his shoulder.
On Tuesday, it was Upshaw mostly running with the first-team defense.
"I'm just focused on the reps," Upshaw said. "Everybody knows my shoulder kind of put me back. If I don't get the reps, there's no way I can be a starter. … I feel my training camp could be better, but it's been a good training camp."
When it comes to becoming a starter, not many rookies accomplish that feat their first year in Baltimore – particularly on defense.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith was behind Cary Williams last year. Nose tackle Terrence Cody was behind Kelly Gregg his first year. Second-year linebacker Paul Kruger is just now lined up for a starting job in his fourth year.
Upshaw has a better chance of starting than some of those players did in part because of injured players in front of him, but he's not concerned about that. "Whenever my name is called Week 1 in Cincinnati, if it's with the ones or twos it doesn't matter," Upshaw said. "I just really want to play to be honest with you."