There's much less of Ravens strong safety Matt Elam nowadays, but not when it comes to the reduction in playing time and starting status that he experienced last season.
The Ravens' 2013 first-round draft pick is noticeably leaner throughout his midsection and face, having lost roughly eight pounds to get down to a career-low 202 pounds. After a disappointing first two seasons in the NFL, Elam said he's down to eight-percent body fat in hopes that a fitter body will pay dividends on the football field.
"I've been working hard and eating right," Elam said. "I'm doing everything the right way and getting myself right. I feel really good."
Elam is aware that he's been put on notice to upgrade his play. He's reacted the way the organization had hoped for following an offseason where he was publicly put under a mandate that he must improve by general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"I'm very excited about how things are going," Elam said. "I'm reacting quickly and breaking on the ball. I feel really good about this year."
A consensus All-American at Florida, Elam led the Ravens with 16 missed tackles last season. In the Ravens' AFC divisional round playoff loss to the New England Patriots, Elam allowed wide receiver Danny Amendola to wiggle out of his grasp for a touchdown.
"Matt Elam has to be a better football player for us next year," Newsome said during the Ravens' state of the team press conference in February. "He has to be."
Now, Elam is competing with Will Hill for the starting job at strong safety after losing his starting job midway through the season despite being shifted from free safety back to his natural strong safety position. Starting 11 of 16 games, Elam finished with just 50 tackles, a half-sack, zero interceptions, four pass deflections and a forced fumble.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
"Ozzie wants me to do well and he has high expectations for me," Elam said. "He drafted me in the first round. I've prepared hard this offseason. I'm ready for everything. I want to do a lot to help this team win football games."
Elam was the lowest-graded player on the Ravens defense and the 78th-ranked safety in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 38 of 53 passes thrown in his direction (71.7 percent) for 500 yards and three touchdowns. He often played out of position at nickel because of the Ravens' injuries at cornerback. Elam did intercept a two-point conversion pass in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"They drafted me here to play safety," Elam said. "I'll play wherever they ask me to."
As a rookie, Elam had 77 tackles and an interception as he started all but one game. Hill has the edge for the starting job during the early stages of training camp, but nothing has been decided and Elam is expected to play a lot no matter who's the starter.
"I'm feel like I'm doing a good job and there's playing time for everybody," said Elam, who had 154 tackles and six interceptions in his final two seasons of college. "We're all competing and working to improve the back end of the defense."