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Who Steps Up With Terrell Suggs Out?


Unfortunately, the Ravens have been in this position before.

Terrell Suggs also tore his Achilles heel (his other one) in 2012, right around the time of the NFL draft. Suggs was coming off a year in which he was named the NFL's Most Valuable Defensive Player.

Then, everyone wondered how the Ravens would make it without their talented leader, who ended up missing the first eight games.

That same year, the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII.

Of course, it would be a far stretch to say Suggs' most recent Achilles tear, suffered Sunday evening in Denver, will have the same effect. Suggs returned in 2012, and was on the field as the confetti dropped. He's done for the remainder of this season.

But it does go to show that the Ravens have overcome his loss before, and they can do it again.

"A guy like Terrell Suggs, what he brings to the table is hard to replace," outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "We have guys who have to step up, myself included, and we just have to get the job done."

So who are the guys that specifically have to step up?

The Ravens could look for help on the free-agent market, but they'll also look inside first. Baltimore had perhaps the NFL's best outside linebacker corps last season. That took a hit when Pernell McPhee departed for Chicago in the offseason, but it's still a strong group.

Dumervil and Upshaw have split the starting role for the past two seasons, allowing both to do what they do best.

Upshaw dominates the line of scrimmage and is excellent in setting the edge. He's the Ravens' hammer against the run. Since arriving in Baltimore in 2013, Dumveril has mostly been a pass-rush specialist, a transition that helped lead to 17 sacks last season, tied for career-high.

Now both players will likely be starting. Dumervil used to do everything for the Broncos defense, and started all but five games from 2007 to 2012 while in Denver. He's a player that likes to be on the field as much as possible, and he's been working hard at improving in coverage and run stopping.

Upshaw is a player very much in Suggs' mold. He's very intelligent in diagnosing plays and has improved in coverage, something he'll likely be asked to do more of now.

Upshaw will also be tasked with picking up some of Suggs' lost sack production. Suggs notched 12 sacks last season while Upshaw only has three in his four-year career. During the end of last season and in training camp, however, Upshaw showcased more of the pass-rush potential he displayed in college, and the Ravens were already expecting more from him in that area.

"[Defensive Coordinator Dean] Pees and the coaching staff have been trying to look at things that will put me on the field," Upshaw said. "Now with Terrell going down, I've just got to step up my game all around. It's not going to be easy to try and replace what Terrell brings to the team, but we've got to step up."

There are other candidates outside of just the starters, as everyone on the defense will have to help make up for the loss.

Albert McClellan was the player who stepped in for Suggs when he was out with his Achilles tear in 2012. McClellan started 11 games that season and made a career-high 49 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. McClellan made 14 tackles last year as one of the team's top special teams players.

McClellan already looked like he was going to play a bigger role on defense this season. He made the transition back to outside linebacker and even came up with a sack on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning despite playing just eight snaps.

Then there's fourth-round rookie outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, who the Ravens drafted to help offset the loss of McPhee. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Smith has all the tools to be a very strong pass rusher, but he's still adjusting to the NFL and to being a stand-up outside linebacker. He played with his hand in the dirt at Kentucky.

Smith was one of the Ravens' few healthy scratches for Sunday's game in Denver, but he could now find himself suiting up going forward. He'll have to progress quickly.

The Ravens have relied on their rookies in tough spots before. Last year, undrafted James Hurst and fifth-round guard John Urschel started both playoff games. Baltimore is already using third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis extensively.

"It's a big loss, but there's another day," inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "That's no excuse for our defense to slump down at all. The young guys have to step up and we've got to get more guys to make more plays where he would have been."

In addition to the outside linebackers, the rest of the defense will also be responsible for offsetting the loss. It will have to be a collective effort.

The secondary will have to cover better with perhaps less pass rush. The defensive line will also have to get more push inside. The Ravens like the pass-rush potential of Davis and Timmy Jernigan, who missed Sunday's game. Mosley can be a weapon as a blitzer, as he came up with two sacks on Manning. Pees also dialed up several cornerback blitzes using Kyle Arrington. The Ravens notched four sacks Sunday in Denver and none came from Suggs or Dumervil.

"There are things in life that happen. Adversity is all about how you respond to it," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It's about how you react to it. And it's how you come back and play the next game, and how our young guys step up, and how our older guys wrap their wings around those guys, and how they play the way they need to play.

"That's what a team is all about."

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