By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
9:19 AM EDT, July 31, 2013
Nothing's being handed to rookie safety Matt Elam, the Ravens' hard-hitting first-round draft pick from Florida.
Although Elam is widely expected to eventually start at strong safety opposite free safety Michael Huff, the Ravens are making him earn the job.
So far in training camp, veteran James Ihedigbo has taken the majority of the work with the first-team defense.
"Yeah, that's what it's all about," Ihedigbo said. "Competition brings out the best in everybody. Matt is playing great. The best 11 men will be on the field."
Like most NFL teams, the Ravens believe that a rookie has to establish himself and prove himself to the veterans and coaching staff before they trust him in a starting role. That's been the case for several years, and continues this year at the start of camp with Elam and second-round rookie inside linebacker Arthur Brown.
That doesn't mean they'll necessarily be in reserve roles for long, though.
Elam has drawn praise from the coaching staff and Ihedigbo.
"My guy is playing awesome," Ihedigbo said. "He's really coming into his own with his ability to play man-to-man and his knowledge of the defense. It's all about knowing everything and everybody's job in the secondary. He's a sharp guy and a hard worker who loves the game."
Ihedigbo had a pivotal sack last season in the fourth quarter of a road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers where he drilled quarterback Byron Leftwich to the ground.
Ihedigbo played with Elam's older brother, Abram Elam, with the New York Jets.
"Matt comes from a great pedigree," Ihedigbo said. "It's fun playing with another Elam brother again."
The Ravens held onto Ihedigbo prior to free agency on a one-year, $780,000 contract that includes a $715,000 base salary, $35,000 signing bonus and a $30,000 roster bonus.
Ihedigbo recorded 19 tackles, one sack and a pass deflection last season, starting three games and playing in every game. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder had six special teams tackles, but the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder is expected to have a greater role on defense this season.
Ihedigbo had a career-high 70 tackles as a starter for the New England Patriots two years ago. Three seasons ago with the Jets, Ihedigbo had a career-high three sacks.
"The best guy has to play," Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin said this spring. "It doesn't matter where you're drafted and how you got here. If you're here and are performing the best, you're going to play. James brings veteran leadership. He's been in a lot of big games. I have a lot of confidence in James."