During his rookie season, Ravens first-round draft pick Matt Elam confirmed that he's an aggressive tackler who's capable in run support.
What the former consensus All-American from Florida didn't provide are many impact plays while yielding a few long touchdowns. That included a 53-yard touchdown to Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green during a 34-17 loss Sunday that ended the Ravens' season.
In 15 starts after replacing veteran Michael Huff, Elam finished with 76 tackles and two fumble recoveries with only one interception and three pass deflections.
That leaves the Ravens with a few decisions: Whether to shift Elam to his natural strong safety position, potentially not retain pending free agent starting strong safety James Ihedigbo following a productive season and try to find more of a traditional centerfielder at free safety.
"Matt is probably more of a strong safety in your vision of what those guys are," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Safeties are more interchangeable these days. You can't just say, 'One guy is down, and one guy is back the whole time,' because you're going to get predictable with your pressure package. They can't always know which guy is going to be the guy coming and which guy is going to be the guy high because they would know where pressure would be coming from.
"One guy can be in the box a little more often and the other guy could be back a little more often. We were that way with Ed [Reed] a little bit more when Ed was here. It just depends on who the safeties are. I will say this: Matt is pretty darn good when he's running to the ball and making tackles. I think that's definitely a strength for him, and he showed that toward the end of the year."
Elam declined an interview request Monday, but told The Baltimore Sun earlier this season that he felt more comfortable at strong safety."I'm playing a different position than I played in college, so I'm far away from the ball," said Elam, who led the Ravens with 10 tackles against the Bengals. "It's just me improving and getting comfortable in the new spot I'm in. I just feel like the plays are coming.
"When they come, they're going to come in bundles. I'm playing a new position. They're being patient with me. They're trying to teach me the new position, so I know it for future reference in case I have to play it again."
Harbaugh acknowledged today that Elam wasn't happy with his lack of big plays in his first NFL season.
"I talked to Matt Elam, and Matt Elam was disappointed in how he played," Harbaugh said. "He feels like he should be making a lot more plays. OK, I'm on board with that. The thing I pointed out to him is when you're a safety, you better be solid first.
"And he was solid first as a safety. He was in the right spot most of the time doing the right thing. Not 100 percent, it showed up in the Cincinnati game. But, for the most part, he was solid back there. He can build on that, and he will."
As for Ihedigbo, who recorded 98 tackles to finish second on the season along with three interceptions and two forced fumbles, refuted a suggestion that the Ravens essentially played this entire season with two strong safeties.
"No, we played at a very high level," Ihedigbo said. "We’re both very versatile players. I can play strong and free safety, and I’d like to think I played it pretty well this year. It really wasn’t a challenge at all, no."