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Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe started five games last season for the Ravens, including both playoff games, as an undrafted rookie free agent. But he's started only once this season and has been inactive two of the past three games.

Beaten out by Jameel McClain for the starting inside linebacker job beside Ray Lewis in preseason, Ellerbe has played in the nickel package and on special teams. In eight games, he has 18 defensive tackles and four more on kick coverage.

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But he also was jogging toward a ballcarrier when Atlanta scored a touchdown, and had an illegal contact penalty in the Pittsburgh game. Somewhere in the mix, he lost out to another second-year player, linebacker Jason Phillips.

"Every guy is in a different situation as far as being active and starting and all those different things," coach John Harbaugh said. "So, taking Dannell's case -- just like some other guys that are in the situation where they've been up and down -- you've got to be one of the 45-most valuable guys that week.

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"Sometimes it's how many guys you keep at a position. Other times it's how you play on special teams and what you bring to the table. It's always a combination of things that go into it, and I think when you're a backup linebacker, you need to be playing really well on special teams.

"So now there's a competition for that role and basically he and Jason Phillips have been battling it out week-in and week-out to be the guy that's been [activated], and Jason Phillips won last week. So we'll see who wins this week. You know, Jason played really well on special teams and didn't have any penalties. So in short, the penalties are a big part of it -- it's not everything -- but yeah, they're a big part of it."

Ellerbe, who turns 25 on Monday, is from Hamlet, N.C., but was deactivated for the Panthers game last week.

Phillips contributed two tackles on special teams in Carolina to lead the team.

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