So much has changed for Dannell Ellerbe since the Super Bowl. He is in a new city wearing a different uniform for another AFC contender. He is now the leader that young players look to in key moments, instead of it being the other way around. And yes, his wallet is heavier nowadays.
But every time a replay of the Super Bowl pops up, he can't help but flash back to his final run with the Ravens and feel like it all happened just yesterday.
"That's something that drives me today, to get back to that position and get back to the Super Bowl and win again," said Ellerbe, now the Miami Dolphins starting middle linebacker.
In his four years in Baltimore, Ellerbe learned how to play, study and win from veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He grew up as a player here, so much so that the Dolphins gave him a five-year, $35 million contract to be one of the leaders of their young defense. Now Ellerbe and the Dolphins will host the Ravens this Sunday.
"We know what kind of player he is," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's physical and he presents a lot of problems in the middle. He can blitz the quarterback. He can run sideline to sideline. He does a lot of things well, and we saw that for a couple of years around here."
Ellerbe, who spoke with the Baltimore media via conference call Wednesday, started 14 games for the Ravens in the four years after he signed as a rookie free agent out of Georgia. He split time with Jameel McClain at weak-side linebacker last season before the Ravens moved him into the middle after injuries to Ray Lewis and McClain. Ellerbe thrived in that role before sliding back to weak-side linebacker when Lewis returned for the playoffs.
He was a key contributor in the playoffs, intercepting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC championship game and making 32 tackles in the postseason, including a team-high nine in the Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers.
In the final three minutes of that game, Ellerbe chased down 49ers running back Frank Gore at the end of a long run and forced him out of bounds at the 7-yard line. On first-and-goal, Ellerbe stuffed LaMichael James after a short run. And on fourth-and-goal, he hit 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he threw his desperate final heave to wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
After lifting the Lombardi Trophy, Ellerbe was sure he "was going to be back in black and purple." The Ravens wanted him back but couldn't come close to what the Dolphins had offered.
"He played well for us last year. That's why his [nickname] is Phenom," rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's doing great things for Miami. They definitely got a steal."
While acknowledging that Miami made him a nice offer, Ellerbe insisted it wasn't all about the money. He said he wanted an opportunity to emerge from the shadow of Lewis and others who came before him, lead an up-and-coming defense and make a name for himself elsewhere.
Through four games, Ellerbe is tied for third in the NFL with 38 tackles, including 24 solo tackles, and he recovered a fumble in Miami's 38-17 loss in New Orleans on Monday night.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said that Ellerbe is also making contributions in his locker room.
"He's exhibited excellent leadership qualities," Philbin said on a conference call. "Obviously he's four games into his career here. He's very smart. He's instinctive. He's very professional and takes care of himself both on and off the field. He's been a great addition."
Ellerbe is one of a handful of players Philbin has named to the team's leadership council, but he admits it feels a little "different" now that he is someone the Dolphins look to for timely plays, pregame pep talks and words of wisdom after watching Lewis and others lead for four years.
"It's an awesome feeling to learn from guys like that and then to take what I learned from them and try to apply it down here," Ellerbe said.
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