Matt Elam understands. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome hasn't sugarcoated his take on the 2013 first-round safety and former University of Florida consensus All-American following two disappointing NFL seasons.
"Matt Elam has to be a better football player for us next year," Newsome said during the Ravens' state of the team press conference. "He has to be."
Now, Elam says he's determined to prove himself this season. Elam lost his starting job midway through the season despite being shifted from free safety back to his natural strong safety position during the offseason. Elam wound up starting 11 of 16 games, but finished with just 47 tackles, a half-sack, zero interceptions, five pass deflections and a forced fumble.
"Ozzie has a lot of expectations for me because he drafted me in the first round," Elam told The Baltimore Sun during cornerback Lardarius Webb's charity softball game. "I'm not surprised. I just got to out there and do my job. I prepared myself well enough in the offseason and I'll be ready to go."
Elam led the Ravens with 16 missed tackles during the regular season. And Elam allowed New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola to twist out of his grasp for a touchdown during the Ravens' AFC divisional round playoff game loss.
Elam was the lowest-graded player on the Ravens' defense and the 78th-ranked safety in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Elam allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 38 of 53 passes thrown in his direction (71.7 percent) for 500 yards and three touchdowns.
Elam frequently was forced to line up at nickel due to injuries at cornerback, playing out of position.
Elam is noticeably leaner after an offseason of diligent workouts and diet. He's hoping that will allow him to react quicker to plays and make him faster.
"I lost five percent body fat, I got myself stronger than I've ever been," Elam said. "I'm just ready go go to and break out this season. The offseason went well. I'm ready to start the season. I'm ready to play ball again.
Elam had 154 tackles, 22 for loss, and six interceptions during his final two seasons of college. He had 78 tackles, 11 for losses and four interceptions as a junior before declaring early for the draft.
Elam is expected to line up at strong safety with the Ravens having signed veteran Kendrick Lewis to be the starting free safety. Elam will compete with fellow former Gators standout Will Hill for the starting job.
"Strong safety it really don't matter where they put me at," Elam said. "I prepare myself well enough in the offseason to be ready wherever I have to play at. That's where I'm going to be and I'm going to do a great job. I prepared myself well enough in the offseason and I'll be ready to go."
During the Ravens' wild-card playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Elam did have an encouraging game as he contributed a tackle, intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion and was sounder in coverage than usual.
Elam said he's his own harshest critic, but he's not blind to the criticism he's faced.
"All I'll say is, I can't wait until September," Elam said. "I'm ready."