OWINGS MILLS - The expectation when the Ravens took safety Matt Elam, inside linebacker Arthur Brown and defensive tackle Brandon Williams with their top three picks during the NFL draft in April was that each of the three could - and should - quickly become significant contributors for Baltimore's defense.
The play of all three through the first week-plus of training camp has done little, if anything, to change that expectation.
"They've all done great," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "We're very happy. I like the whole rookie class. Every single guy has been as good or better than expected, so that's good news."
Elam, the Ravens' top pick, impressed teammates and coaches during the spring with his athleticism, instincts, aggressiveness and, maybe more so than anything else, his versatility, and he's continued to earn positive reviews through the early part of training camp.
Elam is pushing veteran James Ihedigbo for Baltimore's starting strong safety job.
Ihedigbo has seen the majority of reps with the first-team defense through this point of camp, but Elam has shown flashes of his ability during camp.
He intercepted quarterback Joe Flacco Friday while working with the first-team defense, diving to pick off an overthrown ball from Flacco.
"My guy is playing awesome," Ihedigbo said of Elam. "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."
"He's fast, and he's tough," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Elam. "That's what you want in a strong safety. The guy will come hit you. ...
"He still makes the rookie mistakes and stuff that eventually he will get rid of. ... But we always ask three things out a player: Be tough, be smart and give great effort. When you are fast and give great effort, that shows up."
Brown is one of four players competing for a starting job at inside linebacker.
Veteran Daryl Smith appears locked in as a starter at one inside linebacker spot, and he's been a fixture on the first-team defense since signing with Baltimore in June, but Brown, Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan have all seen time with the first-team defense during camp along with Smith.
Brown, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Kansas State last year, was limited during the spring after undergoing sports hernia surgery, but the speed, athleticism and ability in pass coverage he was known for at Kansas State has shown up during training camp.
"It's been a development process since Day One," Brown said. "I've definitely made some strides when it comes to fitting in the scheme, and that was my main focus coming into it - really studying and grasping and having a full understanding of the defensive scheme. So, where I'm at, there's a ways to go, but I'm definitely making strides."
Williams continues to make strides, too.
His size (6-foot-1, 335 pounds), strength and athleticism were already evident to anyone that saw him during the Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine or during the spring with the Ravens, but he's continued to flash his power and athleticism during training camp and has very much put himself in position for playing time along Baltimore's defensive line.
Williams is pushing for the Ravens' starting nose tackle job - and he's physically overwhelmed Baltimore's second- and third-team offensive lines at times at that position during camp - but he's also seen time at defensive tackle and defensive end.
"He's, again, a very strong, tough guy that has very good ... suddenness," Pees said. "I know it's quickness, but there is a difference between getting off a block sudden, and he's a guy that has a suddenness about him - if that's a word. He's got some power. ...
"I'm very pleased with him and really all those guys and how they are working."
But the biggest test yet for all three will come Thursday, when the Ravens open their preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game that will provide Baltimore with a much better indication of just exactly what it has in its top three picks.
"They're two weeks into training camp, so they've got a lot of reps under the belt," Harbaugh said. "But the next step is a game for those guys. That will be the big challenge. ...
"They're going to go to an opposing stadium with a team that's really excited to play against us, and that will be the first taste of that, so it will be interesting to see how they respond."