Much attention has been given to Courtney Upshaw since he sprained his ankle mid-way through the San Jose State game, and with the countdown clock to kick-off against Penn State racing towards 48 hours, the news on his progress is not particularly encouraging.
When the injury initially occurred, Upshaw attempted to waive off Ed Stinson, his back-up at Jack linebacker, and the Alabama medical staff. He later relented, going to the sideline for additional tape, and tried to return to the game a few minutes later. That return lasted all of one play before Upshaw found discretion to be the better part of valor, and he ultimately watched the remainder of the game from the sideline.
When practice began on Monday afternoon, Upshaw surprised some by not donning the black no-contact jersey, but even so it was clear that he was far from 100%. Upshaw was noticeably gimpy and did not participate fully in all activities. Tuesday afternoon brought a bit more mobility, but he was still being held out of some drills. When yesterday afternoon rolled around -- Wednesday is always the key practice day in Tuscaloosa -- it was more of the same. The mobility is slowly returning, but he is still not participating fully in practice activities.
Now, let me be especially clear here, I do not think there is any real doubt whatsoever that Upshaw will play on Saturday. He is going to play, and you can bet the proverbial farm on that happening.
The real question concerns how healthy will he be, and therefore how effective he will be. He will be on the field, but will he be the Upshaw that we all expected to see in 2010, or will he be Courtney Upshaw in-name-only? That is what we don't know. It's certainly encouraging that he will play, but by the same token this clearly hasn't been the minor, barely noticeable injury that we had all hoped for, and at this point the odds are probably that he won't be 100% by Saturday.
That possibility alone creates both concern and uncertainty for Nick Saban and company. Taking the field without Marcell Dareus is bad enough in its own right, but having a relatively ineffective Upshaw means that Alabama will face Penn State and it's true freshman quarterback without two of the team's three best pass rushers. Furthermore, if Upshaw does indeed prove relatively ineffective come Saturday night, it is not a given that the aforementioned Ed Stinson will ascend the depth chart and move into the starting job. Stinson would play in obvious passing situations, of course, but Dont'a Hightower has taken his fair share of snaps at the Jack position in his own right, and in the event of struggles from Upshaw, it should come as no surprise if the coaching staff opts to move Hightower out to the Jack position and put Chris Jordan into the game as the Mike linebacker.
Either way, keep a close eye on Upshaw in the early stages of the game come Saturday. His health could play both a major role in the outcome of the game, and the manner in which the Alabama coaching staff must go about defending the Penn State offense.