Few players in the NFL know Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson as well as Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
They were teammates for three seasons at Alabama, and Upshaw knows first-hand the kind of bruising running style that Richardson brings to the table. The difference now, however, is that Upshaw will actually be able to lay a hit on Richardson, rather than easing up in practice.
"We really couldn't hit those guys because we were teammates," Upshaw said. "It's a different story now."
Upshaw will have to square off with his former teammate tonight, as the Browns visit Baltimore for a primetime matchup on Thursday Night Football. Upshaw said that he's not talking with Richardson this week, but he has talked with him teammates to stress how difficult it is to bring Richardson to the ground.
"We have to gang tackle him and know that he's going to fight for a couple extra yards that aren't there," Upshaw said. "He's tough runner, hard runner."
The Browns took Richardson with the third overall pick in this year's draft, giving up three picks to the St. Louis Rams to move up one spot and get him. He arrived in Cleveland with heightened expectations to revive the Browns offense, which has been among the NFL's worst for more than a decade.
With three games under his belt, Richardson has shown potential that he could live up to that billing.
"Richardson is everything that everybody talked about in the draft and coming out of Alabama," Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. "The guy is physical, he's strong. He's never going backwards. He's always falling forwards."
Richardson has 50 carries for 175 yards and two touchdowns, and also has 11 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
At 5-foot-9, 230 pounds, Richardson is short, but powerful. He drew comparisons to Maurice Jones-Drew from a number of players in the Ravens locker room.
"I don't want to call him small because he's a big dude," Upshaw said. "He's a powerful guy, kind of like Maurice Jones-Drew, short but strong."
"He's strong, powerful, kind of reminds me a little of Jones-Drew," linebacker Jameel McClain added. "He definitely has great feet and he can get in and out of the hole. That's the biggest thing I've seen."
Richardson is coming off a tough game on Sunday against the Bills, where he rushed for 27 yards on 12 carries. His strength is in fighting for extra yards after contact, rather than breaking long runs with straight-line speed. His longest run so far this season is a 32-yard scamper.
"I don't think he's going to break a lot of long ones against us but we have to make sure we stop him from turning a 3-yard run into a 5- and 6-yard run because a lot of those can add up real quick," outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. "I think he's a fighter. He wants to fight for every yard. You can appreciate a guy like that. Those are the guys you've got to really prepare yourself for because they can really hurt you over the course of the game."
The Ravens have given up an average of 117 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 18th in the NFL. They have not allowed an individual rusher to top the 100-yard mark this season.
The hope is to keep Richardson from becoming the first in what will likely be a matchup to watch for years to come.
"He is an exceptional, exceptional back," Pees said. "He's going to be something to deal with for probably a long, long time."