NFL Wire News

LB Upshaw in a rush to improve for Ravens


The Sports Xchange

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Heading into the final year of a $5.306 million rookie contract, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw is hoping to improve as a pass rusher.

The 25-year-old, who has three career sacks, said he’s not satisfied by pressures and quarterback hits. He had zero sacks last season.

“Everybody knows that being close is not actually getting the job done,” Upshaw said. “In this league, sacks count. A lot of people look at the pressures. With me, it’s either I get there or I don’t. I don’t count the pressure as actually getting the job done.

“They gave me plenty of opportunities to get after the quarterback. It’s on me to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Upshaw hoped his big hit last September on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, which knocked the wind out of the veteran passer and left him sore for several weeks, would propel him toward more sacks.

It didn’t work out that way.

Upshaw was fined $16,537 by the league office and while he made 42 tackles in 14 starts, fellow outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Pernell McPhee combined for 36.5 sacks last year.

Upshaw has devoted his offseason to improving his flexibility so he will be able to cover ground faster and contort his body to create leverage while rushing the passer.

Upshaw worked out with fellow former Alabama football players Mike McCoy and Justin Woodall at the Warehouse Performance Institute in Birmingham, Ala., to try to become more mobile and limber.

Although Upshaw remains a bulky, powerful presence at 6 feet 2, 272 pounds, he’s noticeably quicker on the practice field this spring.

“I’m feeling great,” said Upshaw, a former second-round draft pick. “Working out with a couple of my old teammates, we worked on loosening up my hips and flexibility and footwork because I’m in coverage a lot. I see it translating to me running better and being able to move out there.

“I’ve come to understand that my body is just different, if you’re talking about my weight. I feel like if I can just get loose in the hips and get rid of that stiffness, then I can be able to do a lot more. Basically, I was limiting myself by not doing the stretches and working on my hips in the past offseasons.”

–Signed to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes a $1 million signing bonus and another $1 million in incentives based on playing time, backup quarterback Matt Schaub hasn’t been much different on the practice field than he was recently with the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans.

Schaub washed out as a starter because of his tendency to throw interceptions and have them returned for touchdowns. He has remained prone to interceptions in practice, throwing two on Monday.

Middle linebacker Zach Orr intercepted an errant pass over the middle and cornerback Quinton Pointer intercepted a pass that glanced off wide receiver Daniel Brown’s hands.

Schaub has his moments but also has appeared to be hesitant. With more decisiveness and trust in his initial read, Schaub can improve. It almost seems, at times, like he’s haunted by past interceptions and is concerned about making a mistake.

–When Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was a quarterback at the University of Minnesota, he had the benefit of being counseled by longtime coach Tom Moore.

Now the assistant head coach and offensive consultant with the Arizona Cardinals after a previous stint as Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator coaching Peyton Manning, Moore was then the offensive coordinator for the Golden Gophers.

At Minnesota, Moore coached future NFL head coach Tony Dungy — his starting quarterback — and Trestman was his backup.

One concept Moore emphasized to Dungy and Trestman was calling several plays in the huddle and then picking one at the line of scrimmage based on how the defense lined up.

Trestman still applies coaching principles that Moore taught him.

“Tom was certainly influential, as a college player,” Trestman said. “Tony Dungy and myself were there, and the one thing that Tom taught us was that we want to coach guys to be better than they think they can be.

“Tom has done that throughout his career with the people that he has coached, and Tony learned that lesson — and I did as well — that we are here to help them try to be better than even they think they can be each and every day.”

–Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco celebrated his 30th birthday in January.

After his most successful season statistically — a career-high 3,986 yards and 27 touchdown passes — Flacco said recently that he could envision himself playing another decade in the NFL, which would take him into his 40s.

Flacco has started 112 consecutive games through seven NFL seasons.

“I don’t feel any worse because of my age yet,” Flacco said. “I think you learn more. I’m not going to be 50 and playing. I hope I’m 40, but 50, no.”

Flacco is the Ravens’ career leading passer with 25,531 yards and 148 touchdowns.

There are performance and financial components to whether a quarterback lasts into his 40s.

Both Tom Brady, 37, and Drew Brees, 36, have said they plan to play that long. Previously, Brett Favre played at 40, as did former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Peyton Manning is 39.

Flacco is entering what amounts to a contract year because of a $28.55 million salary-cap figure and $18 million base salary in 2016.

Talks between his agent, Joe Linta, and Ravens senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty are expected to take place between now and the start of the free-agent signing period in 2016.

Flacco’s deal was always scheduled to be revisited after what amounted to a three-year, $62 million payout as part of his $120.6 million contract that included a $29 million signing bonus.

Flacco’s focus is on getting acclimated to new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and breaking in a new starting wide receiver and tight end with the departures of Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels in free agency. Flacco says he’s continuing to make progress individually.

“I think the reason that it changes maybe a little bit is because you learn more each year,” Flacco said. “I’m comfortable with what I do in the offseason and who I work with when I’m not around here. And it wasn’t like that probably the first two years.

“But ever since then, I’m pretty comfortable and I feel good about it. It’s kind of been pretty similar, and I rely on my trainer, and when I come back here I rely on these guys. I think it’s working out really well.”

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