Ravens solution to Suggs' injury may rest with rookie

May 03, 2012|Mike Preston

When the Ravens traded back from the first to the second round last week and still managed to get Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, it might have been the steal of the NFL draft.

A week later, it might turn out to be the deal that saved the 2012 season.

Word came out from The Castle on Thursday that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, might have either a partial or full torn Achilles tendon which could sideline him four to six months.

Regardless of how you look at it, a lot of the 2012 season is basically lost for Suggs, especially when you factor in the additional time of getting him into game shape. If the Ravens had cap room, they might be able to sign one of the league's better pass rushers through free agency, but the Ravens are less than $2 million under the cap.

They don't want to make trades either, because they don't want to mortgage their future giving up draft choices. The next best option is Upshaw.

He's the next man up.

Upshaw was expected to challenge Paul Kruger for the starting job at outside linebacker, but that changed with the injury to Suggs.

You can't ever replace a talent like Suggs. He had a career high 14 sacks last season as opponents spent time game planning for him. He emerged as a team leader in 2011and became the heir apparent to veteran linebacker Ray Lewis as the team's future defensive leader.

But the Ravens have few options except to give Upshaw a crash course basically playing as a rush end or outside linebacker. It makes sense.

It was the perfect situation with Suggs on one side, and either Kruger or Upshaw on the other with both trying to improve stopping the run.

But the Ravens have to be more analytical now. Kruger's longer torso lends to stopping the run better, and Upshaw is more compact and powerfully built. He appears to have more explosiveness coming off the edge, but at the same time has enough power where he can still put his hand in the dirt and play off the line of scrimmage.

Plus, Kruger has had two years to learn and play strong side linebacker behind Jarret Johnson. In a sense, the Ravens can cut down on the number of responsibilities for Upshaw and just turn him loose in a role which he is accustomed to playing.

The Ravens will also probably move Albert McClellan, who showed promise last season, back to outside linebacker, and then hope that outside linebacker Sergio Kindle takes the big step forward in training camp after spending the past two seasons recovering from a skull fracture.

The Ravens other options are relatively limited. There has been speculation the Ravens might be able to pry defensive end Osi Umenyiora away from the New York Giants, but he'd cost too much money and there are still questions regarding his health.

And certainly at this point, it's too early for the Ravens to talk about trades. They won't know until Tuesday if Suggs has a full or partial tear, and once they get an answer, they'll start making some definitive plans.

Suggs, though, says he could be ready as early as October, or as late as November. Either way, he intends to play in 2012.

"It's amazing people are starting to write me off already, the entire season," Suggs said. "It will take three or four months to heal. Well, it's still three months before training camp, and then another month of training camp. At the minimum, I'll be back in October, and at the maximum, most definitely back in November."

"I've never been seriously hurt before," said Suggs. "Ray Lewis, the greatest player ever, has been hurt a couple of times, but he has always come back strong. I've never been through anything like this before. It is nerve racking, but I want to repeat, not just as the Player of the Year, but to get back to the championship game and then the Super Bowl. I can't get it done, win the Player of the Year, playing only nine games, but I can help us still win a Super Bowl. and that's one hell of a consolation prize."

The other is Upshaw. The Ravens got that prize in the draft last weekend. He is the perfect stop gap solution.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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