Rookie Class Could Prove Key In Super Bowl


Draft weekend wasn't quite the celebration that Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele and Bernard Pierce wanted.

All three players heard their names called later than expected.

Upshaw, a leader of Alabama's national championship defense, was at Radio City Music Hall for the draft and had to wait patiently as he dropped out of the first round. Osemele, a four-year starter at Iowa State, slipped to the end of the second round, and Pierce, who scored 27 touchdowns his final season at Temple, fell to the back of the third round.

They all thought they deserved to go higher. And they all arrived in Baltimore with that mindset.

"I honestly put that draft behind me," Upshaw said. "I know speaking to a lot of people, I was going to use that as a chip on my shoulder. I heard [Osemele] talk plenty of times that there is going to be a chip on his shoulder. I just feel like this rookie class is phenomenal."

That mentality has fueled the Ravens rookie class throughout the season, and has made them a key piece of the team's Super Bowl run.

"This group was really hungry," Osemele said. "It's just guys that came in here and wanted to make an impact, wanted to make a difference and wanted to make a name for themselves and just kind of solidify themselves in the NFL. We just all kind of came in with that mindset that we were here to stay and we were going to come in here and, if need-be, take somebody's job to make it a better football team."

Osemele has started every game of the season, playing right tackle during the regular season and moving to left guard for the playoffs. He has shown his versatility by being able to flip sides and positions late in the year, and has proven to be one of the Ravens' top linemen.

"I wasn't a very technically sound player coming out of the draft, which made me drop to the point where I did," Osemele said. "That gave the Ravens the opportunity to take me and develop me and teach me the finer points of the game, technique and things of that nature that have made me a much better football player."

Upshaw started nine games during the regular season. He registered 55 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and has added another three tackles in the playoffs.

Pierce has come on strong in the second half of the season and the playoffs, and he's averaged 6.3 yards per carry in the postseason.

"We all wanted to get here and make an impact as a player on this team and have our name known," Upshaw said. "I think I can speak for everybody when I say we're happy to be here."

Upshaw, Osemele and Pierce aren't the only rookies making an impact. Undrafted free agent Justin Tucker drilled 30-of-33 kicks during the regular season and was one of the NFL's top kickers.

In total, the Ravens have 10 rookies on the roster, including four undrafted free agents (Tucker, Deonte Thompson, Omar Brown and Adrian Hamilton). All of the team's draft picks are either on the roster or on injured reserve, as the Ravens didn't cut any of their seven picks.

While the Ravens are a veteran team known for their leaders like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs, they will rely heavily on their up-and-coming talent when they take the field for Super Bowl XLVII.

"Are they rookies right now at this stage?"Head Coach John Harbaugh asked."They are kind of veterans now, so we count on them to play like that."

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