Much-maligned Ravens safety Matt Elam had put a lot into preparing for this season, reporting to training camp in the best shape of his young career and vowing to improve after a difficult sophomore campaign.
However, Elam's 2015 season is over before it even began. The 2013 first-round NFL draft pick will have season-ending surgery this week to repair a torn biceps, coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
"I feel bad for Matt just because he was doing so well," Harbaugh said. "He really had been determined to change, improve some things that he wasn't doing quite as well. The number one thing was tackling. We were both excited to get out there in pads and see him tackle, because I thought he was really preparing for it well."
An MRI revealed that Elam, who was injured in last Saturday's training camp practice, has a fully torn biceps. The injury typically carries a four-to-six month recovery process, meaning that Elam is headed for season-ending injured reserve.
The injury is a crushing blow to Elam — who was competing with Will Hill for a starting safety job alongside free agent acquisition Kendrick Lewis — and for the Ravens, who now have some depth concerns on the back end of their defense.
Other safeties on the Ravens' roster include holdovers Anthony Levine and Brynden Trawick, neither of whom have started a game at safety in their NFL careers, and undrafted rookie Nick Perry.
Safety Terrence Brooks, a third-round pick last year, is on the physically unable to perform list, though he's made nice strides in his recovery from a significant knee injury.
Harbaugh said he's happy with the safety depth, and doesn't anticipate adding a player at the position.
In his first two seasons with the Ravens, Elam played in all 32 games, starting 26. He was credited with 123 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups. However, consistency has been extremely elusive for the former University of Florida standout, who lost his starting job in the middle of last season after Hill came off the suspended list.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elam missed 16 tackles last year, leading the Ravens in that category. His tackling and coverage issues were on full display in the AFC divisional playoff loss to the New England Patriots. In that game, the Ravens blew two 14-point leads as the secondary was overwhelmed by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Elam, who was asked to play out of position at nickel back because of the team's various injuries in the defensive backfield, was the lowest-graded player on the Ravens' defense, per Pro Football Focus.
However, he was widely praised by the coaching staff for his hard work this summer and he appeared well on his way to solidifying no worse than the No. 3 safety role.
The Ravens will now have to find somebody to replace him, while Elam will have to wait another year to prove that he learned from his early struggles and was prepared to justify his standing as a first-round pick.
"It's a setback he's going to have to overcome, some adversity he's going to have to walk through and come out the other end a better player and a better person," Harbaugh said. "That's what he's determined to do."