Dannell Ellerbe, perhaps the biggest surprise on last year's team, hasn't locked up the starting inside linebacker position next to Ray Lewis, according to coach John Harbaugh.
An undrafted rookie out of Georgia, Ellerbe stepped into that spot for the final three regular season games when Tavares Gooden went down with a groin injury. He played a pivotal role in the Ravens' playoff-clinching, season finale at Oakland, where he intercepted a pass (which led to a touchdown) and recovered a fumble.
So when Gooden was healthy enough to play in the postseason, Ellerbe remained the starter.
Despite Ellerbe continuing to work with the first-team defense this offseason, Harbaugh said, "I wouldn't characterize any of those young guys as starters yet. I think the competition is there. Jameel McClain's in the mix, Tavares Gooden's in the mix. Hey, Brendon Ayanbadejo, when he gets back, you never know. So, all those guys are trying to line up next to Ray [Lewis], and they're getting tons of reps right now."
Harbaugh added, "But Dannell has done very well. I think he's had a really good offseason lifting, conditioning, knowing the defense, but I would put the other guys in that same category."
The best bet is Ellerbe remaining the starter when the regular season begins. Some Ravens observers think Ellerbe could eventually become better than Bart Scott, who didn't start until his fourth NFL season after being an undrafted rookie.