There were numerous times over the past three days when Matt Elam had a running back or wide receiver in his sight and a great angle to deliver a punishing hit but all the Ravens’ rookie safety could do was simulate a tackle and run right past the ball carrier.
“It hurt my heart to pull up but these are my teammates,” said Elam. “I have to take care of them. I run down on guys every rep I take so when the time comes, I’ll be ready for it.”
The lessons and adjustments have come fast for the first-round pick who had another strong practice Thursday as the Ravens’ three-day mandatory minicamp at the Under Armour Performance Center came to a close. A day after intercepting quarterback Joe Flacco in one drill and making several other plays on the ball, Elam again was arguably the most active player on defense.
The former University of Florida standout mistakenly knocked down reserve tight end Billy Bajema while closing on the ball on one play. A couple of players later, he broke on the ball but arrived too early and was flagged for pass interference. Elam later made a circus catch on an overthrown pass along the sidelines though his defensive teammates chastised him for not keeping two feet in bounds.
“I’m very pleased and I’m very confident,” Elam said. “I came in and I was able to play really fast because they are calling the defense really fast. I’m just learning from the older guys every day. I feel like they gave me a boost and taught me a lot of things. They gave me a lot of confidence.”
When the Ravens drafted Elam with the 32nd overall pick in late April, they felt that he had the necessary talent, work ethic and football intelligence to immediately challenge for a starting job on a team that last its two top safeties from last year, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. Nothing that team officials or teammates have seen from Elam over the various minicamps and organized team activities has changed their thinking.
“[He’s] going through the usual changes that a rookie goes through, but he’s smart,” said Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin. “He’s tough, he’s fast, he gets football, and I think he is going to be a fine player for us soon.”
Veteran cornerback Corey Graham was most impressed by Elam’s ability to avoid mental mistakes during a time when most rookies are still trying to learn the playbook and get acclimated to the speed of an NFL practice.
“He’s picking things up very fast,” Graham said. “He’s at safety, they are putting him in the dollar package, he’s coming down playing nickel. When you have the ability to play all those positions, that’s pretty impressive. You don’t see that much, especially in the first couple of months of being on the team.”
Elam, who had 176 tackles, five sacks and three interception in three seasons in college, said the Ravens’ defense has similar concepts to what the University of Florida liked to run. That – and his study habits – has eased his transition.
Elam and the rest of the Ravens’ rookie class have one more week at the team facility before they start a four-week break before training camp. Elam said that his goals for the four weeks are to work on his conditioning and get mentally prepared for the season.
“I just try to stay focused,” said Elam who said that he expects his rookie contract to be finalized in the next two to three weeks. “I’m going to do whatever I can to be great. I have dreams of being great, being one of the greatest safeties to play the game. I feel like me staying focused, I can get that done.”