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Who will Ravens tap to replace Suggs?

The Sports Xchange
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--The Ravens' top candidates to replace Terrell Suggs at rush linebacker are Courtney Upshaw and outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who had 5.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher last season.

Upshaw and Kruger were slated to compete for the strong-side outside linebacker vacancy created by Jarret Johnson signing a $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.

Now, Upshaw, a 6-2, 272-pounder who had 9.5 sacks last season for the Crimson Tide, is the front-runner to take over Suggs' rush outside linebacker role.

"I already knew I would be competing for a starting job and contributing to this defense," Upshaw said. "I don't look at it like there's more pressure on me. I'm going to play the same way I always have. I'll play wherever they want and need me to line up. Nothing changes for me."

The Ravens will also rely on defensive end Pernell McPhee after he registered six sacks as a rookie to provide a pass rush as well as Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (five sacks). Among the unproven players vying for a role: former second-round outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and outside linebacker Michael McAdoo.

"Upshaw and Kruger are going to be relied on to provide the pass rush," Jeremiah said. "Emergence of McPhee is a huge help."

--The Ravens have been assigned a rookie pool figure of $4.318 million to sign their haul of eight draft picks. The total combined compensation for those deals can't exceed $23.749 million.

The Ravens' draft class includes second-round Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and Iowa State offensive guard-tackle Kelechi Osemele.

Although the Ravens are just $1.653 million under the NFL salary-cap limit, including Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice's unsigned $7.742 million franchise tender, the rookie pool number operates as a cap within the cap so teams can sign their draft selections.

--Reinforcing their defensive line depth with a familiar face and a massive presence, the Ravens signed veteran nose tackled Ma'ake Kemoeatu to a one-year contract.

Kemoeatu, 33, last played for the Ravens in 2005 before joining the Carolina Panthers after that season via a five-year, $23 million contract that included a $6 million signing bonus.

He signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the Washington Redskins two years ago and started 12 games and recorded 29 tackles.

However, Kemoeatu didn't play at all last season after being released by the Redskins on July 28, 2011. He has dealt with serious Achilles tendon and shoulder injuries.

Healthy now, Kemoeatu intends to play at least two to three more seasons.

"Ma'ake will be given an opportunity to make our 53-man roster," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "And if he does, he will provide added depth and help our ability to stop the run."

The 6-5, 364-pounder has 237 career tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble.

In his best season with the Ravens, who developed Kemoeatu after he went undrafted out of Utah, the big defensive lineman started every game during his last season in Baltimore and registered 40 tackles and a sack.

"When we signed Ma'ake as a rookie free agent in 2002, he really rose to the occasion and worked his way into becoming a highly-regarded player in Baltimore and throughout the league," Ravens director of pro personnel Vince Newsome said. "He is incredibly strong, someone who has heavy hands and great punch. For a guy his size, he also moves really well and creates separation."

--The Ravens have signed long snapper Patrick Scales, a player they released during the final major roster cutdown last year. The 6-4, 228-pound former Utah State player had a solid training camp last year, just not enough to take the job away from established long snapper Morgan Cox.

Cox remains fairly entrenched.

It's a good idea for teams to have two snappers on the roster for offseason activities as well as the preseason so as to not wear out the regular snapper.

Scales walked on at Utah State and quickly earned a scholarship.

--Ravens All-Pro free safety Ed Reed began schooling Christian Thompson on the various nuances of the NFL even before the AFC North franchise drafted Thompson in the fourth round.

The South Carolina State free safety talked football with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, exchanging numbers and staying in touch throughout the draft process.

"He told me to stay on top of my game," Thompson said in a telephone interview. "He said somebody is always trying to take your position from you and to make sure I worked harder than everybody else. He gave me some great advice about football and life."

Little did Reed or Thompson know that they would wind up being teammates.

Now, Thompson is overjoyed to have been drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore with the 130th overall pick where he'll join Reed in the Ravens' secondary.

"This is a blessing in disguise," Thompson said. "It's like a dream come true. Myself and plenty of other football players idolize Ed Reed. To be a part of the same defense as him and being able to learn from him is going to be a great experience. I'm just very excited. All the hard work and dedication paid off."

The Ravens drafted Thompson because of his combination of size, speed, physical style and interchangeable ability at free safety and strong safety.

The 6-0, 211-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 to 4.50 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, faster than any other safety.

"Christian is in the mold of the guys we like on defense," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's hard-nosed, tough and physical and smart. We like his versatility.

"We don't really consider guys box safeties or whatever. We don't want a one-dimensional safety that can only play down or play up. Christian can help us in a lot of ways."

--John Harbaugh backtracked quickly on his remarks about the New England Patriots' legacy being "tainted" due to their involvement in Spygate, issuing a statement hours later saying he doesn't feel that way and called Patriots coach Bill Belichick to apologize.

Harbaugh was asked a question during a radio interview Tuesday morning about the New Orleans Saints' Bountygate scandal, but wound up saying a lot more about the Patriots.

While Harbaugh never specifically mentioned Belichick in the interview, it was Belichick who was punished by the NFL for his role in Spygate where the Patriots illegally videotaped opponents' defensive signals.

"In the end, everything is brought before the light of day," Harbaugh said during an interview with 98 Rock. "Even the thing in New England, no matter whether those things had any impact on whether they won their championships or not, they got asterisks now, it's been stained. So to me, it's never worth it. You've got to figure out ways to use the rules to your advantage."

In the statement, Harbaugh indicated that he didn't believe the Patriots won their three Super Bowl championships as a result of cheating and said he was simply referring to the perception surrounding the AFC East organization due to Spygate.

"While on the 98 Rock show this morning to talk about the run to honor O.J. Brigance and raise funds for ALS research, I answered a question about playing within the rules and referred to the perception that the Super Bowl championships won by the Patriots and Saints have a stain," Harbaugh said. "My reference was to the perception out there that came as the result of the league's actions. I could have been more clear that I was referring to those viewpoints. I totally believe that the Patriot and Saint coaches and players earned those championships. Bill and Sean (Payton) both know that.

"There has been some distortion about what I said. The original tweet indicated I pointed the finger at Bill Belichick and mentioned Bill's name. I did not. I have so much respect for Coach Belichick and the job he does and has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career. I called him to remind him of my respect for him. I also reached out to Tedy Bruschi, who rightfully defended those Patriot players and coaches on ESPN, to tell him that I agree with him that the Patriots earned every victory."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"Tommy was the best player on our board. We were excited about him. It's unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that. These kinds of guys are rare at times. If you have a chance to get a guy like that and you are in the right position in the draft, it's probably a good thing and he was the guy." -- Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta on 6-5, 220-pound wide receiver Tommy Streeter.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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