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Ravens’ DeShon Elliott was tapped to replace an accomplished safety last year. Can he break out in 2020?

If the opening scene for the story of DeShon Elliott’s 2020 season sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The third-year Ravens safety was called on last year, along with Chuck Clark, to replace Tony Jefferson after a season-ending knee injury in Week 5.

Elliott’s presumed coming-out party was cut short after just 25 defensive snaps the following week, as he suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season.

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Fast forward to the present day, and Elliott is next in line to replace Earl Thomas III, whose contract the team terminated Sunday after a tumultuous weekend.

The talented but often-injured 23-year-old is hoping the reprise has a more fruitful ending.

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Since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, Elliott’s habitual knack for the football and athleticism has consistently been praised, but the former Texas standout has never stayed healthy enough to display it in games that have counted.

A forearm injury in the preseason sidelined him for his entire rookie year. He patiently waited to contribute on defense, but was stopped by a knee injury in his sophomore campaign. However, the team’s divorce from Thomas now seemingly pairs Elliott with Clark, who took his opportunity for a larger role and established himself as a starting-caliber NFL safety. The team could rely more upon Anthony Levine Sr. and Jimmy Smith, who has taken snaps at safety in training camp, but every indication is that Elliott is the next man up.

“When we’re out there paired together and we’re out there, we jell together, it’s smooth,” Clark said after Monday’s practice. “It’s been like that in the past when we’ve been out there running with the [second string] before we stepped into our roles as starters. So we know how each other plays.”

Personality-wise, Elliott is a perfect match for the defense. His work ethic and brash nature endeared him to veterans early on. Pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt on Sunday called Elliott a “confident young man – sometimes too confident.” Coach John Harbaugh on Monday laughed as he said that while Elliott is vocal, “sometimes you’ve got to tell him, ‘OK, I’ve had enough.‘”

During 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills on Monday, Elliott often lined up in the back of the defense, barking out calls to his teammates. He playfully joked to Hewitt about how he was due for an interception and spent an extended period of time discussing coverages with cornerback Marlon Humphrey while off the field during team drills.

“I wouldn’t say overconfidence,” Elliott said when asked about Hewitt’s comments. “I feel like being confident in your abilities comes from being able to know you prepared the right way. ... I’ve been preparing [like] a starter for two years. So I know what I can do, and I know what I can bring to this team to help my teammates be great.”

While injuries have kept Elliott from a starting role, he’s also had to wait behind established veterans. He watched one of the savviest safeties in recent memory, Eric Weddle, who harped on the mental side of the game. He served as a pupil under Jefferson, a player Elliott called a mentor and said “brought that ‘dog’” to the field. And then it was Thomas, who starred at Texas almost a decade before Elliott became a unanimous first-team All-American for the Longhorns.

Now Elliott has to prove he can remain healthy over the course of a 16-game season, as well as coalesce with a starting secondary many believed to be the NFL’s best before Thomas’ departure. Thomas might have taken some time to get acclimated to Don “Wink” Martindale’s intricate scheme, but he was still a Pro Bowl-level safety by season’s end who rarely gave up substantial gains in coverage.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the past few days begot undesired attention and a distraction from its ultimate goals. Whether the Ravens are able to rebound from two consecutive first-round playoff exits or not, the defense’s play without Thomas will be heavily scrutinized.

And that means the comparisons between Elliott and Thomas won’t go away anytime soon — from the position they play to their college roots, to even the agent they share.

“I respect Earl and his game, but I’m not worried about Earl,” Elliott said. “I’m worried about me and what I can bring to this team.”

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