Ravens Update

Ravens select 'Bama's Courtney Upshaw Pass rusher drafted in second round

Courtney Upshaw boarded a train from New York to Baltimore late Friday night, a short journey that delivered the latest defensive standout to the Baltimore Ravens' roster.

The Ravens were intent on upgrading a pass rush headlined by NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. And they wanted to reinforce a run defense left with a gaping hole after the departure of gritty outside linebacker Jarret Johnson when he signed a $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.

By drafting Upshaw, an imposing Alabama All-American outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the second round with the 35th overall pick obtained via a trade from the Minnesota Vikings, the defending AFC North champions are confident they've accomplished both goals. As a run-stuffing presence setting the edge of the defense, the stout 6-foot-2, 272-pounder provides an accomplished, productive skill with his ability to anchor, shed blocks and make tackles.

"I think that's his specialty," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "That's one of the things that was so attractive about him. He plays like a junkyard dog. He has a strong punch. He's a physical, violent football player. We're excited about that. "That's not an easy position to play. A lot of guys can't do that. A lot of guys can rush the passer. A lot of guys can drop and play in space, but setting the edge is really one of the most important things at that position. We feel this guy can do that." Upshaw endured a long wait in the green room at Radio City Music Hall in New York. He arrives in Baltimore after watching his Alabama teammates Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower and Dre' Kirkpatrick all went in the first round. After trading out of the first round where they considered taking Upshaw with the 29th overall pick, the Ravens were still able to obtain Upshaw after passing over Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, Wisconsin center Peter Konz and University of Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn.

"The wait was a little frustrating at times, but I'm very excited and very happy to be chosen in the second round and by the Baltimore Ravens," Upshaw said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I wasn't shocked. I went into today kind of hoping that I'd be a Baltimore Raven. I can't do nothing but smile once I got the call.

"I started the tough-guy act going. My family would get teary-eyed. I didn't want them to see me getting down. Not down, but teary-eyed and crying and all that. I'm very excited and I'm ready to get it going."

Once projected as a lock for the top 10 overall selections, Upshaw's stock dropped as he had a sluggish Senior Bow l and didn't work out at NFL scouting combine due to tendinitis in his knee. Upshaw wasn't thrilled with his campus Pro Day workout where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds and registered a 27-inch vertical leap and a 9-1 broad jump.

And the native of Eufaula, Ala., faced some scrutiny from NFL teams due to an arrest three years ago along with his girlfriend where he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and third-degree harassment. The case was eventually dismissed after Upshaw completed an anger management course. The Ravens had a strong comfort level, though, with Upshaw.

General manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end who played for the late Bear Bryant for the Crimson Tide, knows the Alabama program and coach Nick Saban as well as anyone in the industry.

Ultimately, how Upshaw performed on the field mattered far more to the Ravens than how he performed for a stopwatch.

"When you talk about Courtney, there still is a game we call football and Courtney is a football player," Newsome said. "Obviously, he played at the alma mater of myself and I had the opportunity to watch him a lot. I'm sure if you would have asked us back in October, November if Courtney would make it to the third pick in the second round, everybody would have said, 'Probably not. He was a guy that we talked about at No. 29 also."

Upshaw recorded 141 career tackles, 36 1/2 for losses, 17 1/2 sack, 18 quarterback pressures, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Last season, he emerged as an All-American as he finished with 52 tackles, 17 for losses, 8 1/2 sacks and one interception.

Upshaw plays the game with a hard-nosed temperament, freeing himself from blockers and delivering some punishing hits. Operating in Saban's NFL style schemes, Upshaw has lined up as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt and as a rush outside linebacker.

He did his best work attacking the line of scrimmage rather than retreating into pass coverage.

"He is a really explosive player and heavy-handed," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "He plays hard, and he is versatile. He has played with his hand down and up, so he can stand up on two feet and play and then get down and play in the sub packages as a rusher." Upshaw will compete with Paul Kruger for the starting strongside linebacker position vacated by Johnson.

For now, Kruger remains first on the depth chart. "Obviously, it bolsters our linebacker situation," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think Paul is still the lead dog there. It will give us another pass rusher. There will certainly be tremendous depth. Obviously, it makes us more physical on defense."

Upshaw visited the Ravens and also participated in a private workout.

Now, he becomes a part of the third-ranked defense in the NFL from last season. "I'm a tough, physical player," Upshaw said. "I feel like I'm relentless and I get after the ball. I'm a playmaker. At the end of the day, I'm a football player. I love the game."

Ravens draft Iowa State lineman Kelechi Osemele

OWINGS MILLS -- Months after Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs joined the New Orleans Saints via a $36 million contract, the Baltimore Ravens acquired an imposing potential replacement. The Ravens drafted Iowa State left offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele in the second round Friday night with the 60th overall pick with designs on having the mauling 6-foot-5, 333-pounder compete with Jah Reid for the starting left guard vacancy created by Grubbs' departure. The Ravens will also evaluate the four-year starter at right offensive tackle, currently manned by Michael Oher, who has played left offensive tackle in the past.

The Ravens weren't thrilled with left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie's conditioning and run blocking last season, but retained him for this season by picking up a $500,000 roster bonus in March.

"I feel like I bring a lot of competitiveness and I feel like I bring a lot of physicality and aggression to the table," Osemele said during a conference call. "I just want to get in there and compete and try to fit where I may."

Osemele started 43 consecutive games, lining up for 38 of them at left tackle and another five at left guard. He was credited with 299 knockdown blocks and 49 blocks that led to touchdowns. The Houston, Texas native bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times at the NFL scouting combine, running the 40-yard dash in 5.35 seconds. He's regarded as a powerful blocker whose technique could still use some refinement.

Osemele caught the Ravens' attention at the Senior Bowl and by how he held his own in a game against Iowa years ago where he blocked Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn.. "I think at the Senior Bowl, he was one of the better offensive linemen there," said Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "We had a chance to watch him all week. We saw a big, physical guy with very long arms who moves well on his feet.

"He's a talented guy, no doubt about it. We had the chance to spend some time with him at the combine. We interviewed him, and we were impressed with him."

Five picks before the Ravens selected Osemele, the Atlanta Falcons picked Wisconsin center Peter Konz.

Konz was a lineman the Ravens had under consideration if he had made it to their spot. Osemele has extremely long arms, a 35 1/4 inch length, an 85 1/2-inch wingspan and big hands (10 3/8 inches) to engulf defenders. He visited the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and the Atlanta Falcons.

Osemele is a massive, aggressive blocker with athleticism who has earned All-Big 12 honors. The Ravens envision Osemele pushing the veterans already on the roster.

"I think left guard or right tackle, I think that we will just let those guys compete and see also who meshes better where," Harbaugh said. "You know what, it gives us competition, and we like that."

Osemele didn't visit the Ravens or work out for them after meeting with team officials in February at the combine in Indianapolis. Osemele said he doesn't have a preference where he'll line up.

"It really doesn't matter to me, honestly," Osemele said. "At the Senior Bowl, I played a lot of guard and I dominated. Regardless of where I am, I just need to be physical like I always do." Like the Ravens' other second-round draft pick, Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, Osemele arrives in Baltimore eager to prove that he should have been drafted higher.

"Both guys were a little bit miffed about where they were taken," Harbaugh said. "They were happy to come to Baltimore, but I think they both feel like they have something to prove."

Osemele agreed with that assessment of his mood as he heads to Baltimore.

"Yeah, that's true," Osemele said. "I'll just use that as a motivator more than anything to help fuel me when I first get in there and try to prove everybody wrong and try to prove the naysayers wrong. Hopefully, 10 years from now I'll still be there and be playing."

Ravens draft Temple running back Bernard Pierce in third round Pierce expected to back up Ray Rice

OWINGS MILLS -- Maneuvering upward in the third round through a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens drafted bruising Temple junior running back Bernard Pierce. By sending their third-round draft pick, 91st overall, and a fifth-round pick, 164th overall, the Ravens went up seven spots to obtain their likely primary backup to Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.

Although Pierce will have to compete with Anthony Allen and Damien Berry, the ultra-productive 6-foot, 218-pounder immediately becomes the frontrunner to win the job and provide a physical presence behind the Ravens' franchise player. Pierce rushed for 3,570 career yards and 53 touchdowns, gaining 1,481 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns last season.

"He is a one-cut runner with some size," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He runs very well behind his pads, and that's the style of running game that we're using right now." Pierce met with team officials at the Ravens' training complex during the final week of official visits for draft prospects. Pierce had a hunch that the Ravens might draft him, exchanging texts with coach John Harbaugh throughout the draft.

"He told me he was trying to get me," Pierce said. "So, I just trusted him and I waited and I got the phone call. He's a real good guy. He's cool, down to earth. He's a real guy. I think we clicked immediately as soon as I walked into the meeting room with him."

Pierce has run the 40-yard dash in the mid 4.4 range to 4.50 seconds, but it was his tackle-breaking and downhill style that drew the Ravens' interest.

He could provide a short-yardage presence bereft from the Ravens' backfield since Ricky Williams' abrupt retirement after last season. "If you want me to get those short yards, those fourth-and-1s, third-and-shorts, I can definitely adapt to a game plan any way you want me to," Pierce said. "I'm a big back, and I'm not going to go down easy. I'm going to fight for every yard."

And Pierce is looking forward to learning from Rice.

"He's an amazing player," Pierce said. "I've watched a lot of film on him. He does his job and he does it well. I just want to come on the team and try to contribute any way I possibly can." Because Rice isn't attending offseason activities while contract discussions continue, Pierce could find himself lining up with the first-team offense during his absence.

"I'm definitely ready," Pierce said. "It's going to be different, but I'm going to adapt and I'm going to try to mold myself as fast as possible to this offense and definitely try to get on the field as soon as possible."

Newsome said that Rice's unresolved contract status as an unsigned franchise player didn't factor into drafting Pierce.

"Ricky Williams retiring probably had more to do with that," Newsome said. And the Ravens could use a strong runner with a nose for the end zone.

"The tape is very consistent," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "What I like about him is he's really good down in the red zone and also on the goal line. He's a real physical guy. He can lower his pads and does a really nice job down there."

Pierce isn't known as a home-run threat, but ran the 100 meters in 10.6 seconds in high school for the fastest time in Pennsylvania during his senior year.

"Deceptive," DeCosta said of Pierce's speed. "He's a bigger back. What we like about him is his burst. There's a chance of speed when he gets to the hole and he's able to clear the defender. We see change of speed, which is what most big-time backs have."

Pierce caught only 19 passes for 179 yards, but wasn't used much in that capacity. "He doesn't get a lot of balls thrown to him," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "They use him as a bell cow and then turn around and hand the ball off to him a lot. He can work the ball in and around his frame. He made some nice catches on the sideline. He's definitely capable as a receiver." Pierce said he declared early for the draft because he felt he had accomplished so much for the Owls.

Plus, he's about to become a father.

"I feel as though I did a lot of Temple," Pierce said. "I put my heart, body and soul all on the line for the team. I love my teammates, but I have a child on the way and it's time for me to grow up. So, I needed to make sure that I was able to step up and provide for my family."

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