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OWINGS MILLS - Matt Elam is the first-round pick, the one who entered training camp as the favorite to win the competition and someone who has earned nothing but positive reviews through this point of camp.
But James Ihedigbo continues to fare well in practice and has made the competition with Elam for the Ravens' starting strong safety job into an interesting one without a clear favorite at this point.
"I don't know who I'd pick right now," Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "That's a really competitive situation. That's great for us, and it's great for them because it makes them play even harder and get even better."
It's not that Elam hasn't played well.
Elam stood out at times during organized team activities and minicamp, and he's continued to flash his athleticism and aggressiveness early on in training camp.
"He's fast and he's tough," Pees said. "That's what you want in a strong safety. That guy will come hit you. ... He's a smart player, and he just needs to keep on learning the system and getting used to it.
"He still makes the rookie mistakes and stuff that eventually he will get rid of. ... [But] when you are fast and give great effort, that shows up."
But Ihedigbo has consistently stood out as well.
Ihedigbo, 29, has been mostly a backup during his five seasons in the NFL, but he's big (6-foot-1, 214 pounds) and physical, and he's played well through the early part of camp.
Ihedigbo is primarily viewed around the league as a reserve and special teams player, but he was a starter for the New England Patriots in 2011 and started three games for the Ravens late last season in place of an injured Bernard Pollard.
He had 85 tackles in the 15 games (including the playoffs) that he started for the Patriots in 2011.
"The thing about James is ... that he is a multiple position guy," Pees said. "He can actually get out in the box in our sub-package and play as a linebacker and do some things. A pretty good blitzer - all those kinds of things.
"The good thing about him right now is that he kinds of knows the package probably a little better than maybe Matt does, so we can do more things with him."
Both Ihedigbo and Elam have seen time with the first-team defense during camp, but Ihedigbo began camp as the first-team strong safety and has seen more time with the first-team defense to this point - although it's still just a week in.
During one sequence Thursday, Ihedigbo had good coverage on tight end Ed Dickson before jumping in front of Dickson to make an interception. A few plays later, he diagnosed a screen pass to running back Ray Rice, aggressively flew up to the line of scrimmage and knocked Rice to the ground with a shoulder as soon as Rice turned upfield after making the catch.
"Competition brings out the best in everybody," Ihedigbo said. "Matt is playing great. The best 11 men will be on the field."

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