Upshaw Has Knack For Affecting QB

Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban said that an emphasis of spring practice is for the defensive front to put more pressure on the quarterback. Upcoming senior jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw said, "We want to affect the quarterback on a consistent basis."

It sounds so civilized; almost genteel.

It's not.

When 6-2, 263-pound Alabama jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw "affects the quarterback," the effect is usually good for Alabama. And although Bama Coach Nick Saban says that he doesn't worry about sacks, that sacks are just a by-product of the important thing, which is pressuring the quarterback, a sack is a very good result.

Think back a few months to Orlando and the Capital One Bowl game against Michigan State. Although Alabama would win that game comfortably, 49-7, early in the second quarter the Tide had a 14-0 lead with the Spartans knocking at the Bama goalline. Michigan State had driven to a first and goal at the Alabama seven. On third and goal from the eight, Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins planned a pass.

Upshaw planned otherwise.

Cousins was man-handled by Upshaw and the ball came out, a fumble that was somehow bounced back to the 38 yard line. Michigan State had that rare situation: goal-to-go and punting.

That was one of two Upshaw sacks on the day, one of five turned in by the Alabama defense. Upshaw, who had five solo tackles, including another one for lost yardage, was named the Capital One Most Valuable Player.

Although the team result was not good, Upshaw also had an excellent game against Auburn. In Bama's 28-27 loss to the eventual national champions, Upshaw had 10 tackles, three of them for 19 yards in losses.

Those were two games when Upshaw was playing healthy. A high ankle sprain limited him through much of the 2010 season. Now, he says, he's healed and ready to go.

Alabama has been in shorts for the first two practices of spring training. Friday the team goes to full gear. Spring practice ends with the A-Day Game in Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 16.

Upshaw said that Alabama's outside linebackers have a single conversation topic. "We want to get to the quarterback," he said. "That's all we talk about. If we're not dropping into coverage, once we get that rushing opportunity, it's ‘Get to the QB.' We're not going to make it easy for them."

In 2010, Upshaw was in on 52 tackles, 15 for losses totaling 69 yards, seven quarterback sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and two passes broken up.

That's affecting.

Upshaw said that the Alabama defense went into the Michigan State game "wanting to get that bad taste [of the Auburn loss] out of our mouths. We were real confident."

He looks for that attitude to carry over into 2011. "We're ready to step up our game and get back to the top," he said.

Last year Upshaw was moving into a starting role after having been the back-up to Eryk Anders in Alabama's 2009 national championship season. He is remembered for his fumble recovery following an Anders hit on the Texas quarterback that wrapped up the 37-21 win for the Crimson Tide.

Upshaw wasn't the only newcomer to the defense last spring. The Tide was replacing key players at almost every position. This spring there are 10 returning starters and a handful of others who had a lot of snaps in 2010.

"There's a lot of chemistry there, a lot of people who played last year," Upshaw said. "We're ready to get the ball rolling."

Following Upshaw's performance in the Capital One Bowl, there was a thought among Alabama followers that Upshaw might reconsider his pledge to return for his senior season. "No sire, I didn't," he said. "I had my mind made up that I was going to come back. That was basically to better myself and be ready for the NFL when it came my time. I wanted to win, and at Alabama that's what we do: win. That's why I wanted to come back."

And now, to affect the quarterback.

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