Baltimore Ravens

Without Matt Elam, Ravens' safety depth will be tested

Ravens rookie safety Nick Perry has been asked for weeks about the transition he is trying to make to the NFL. His response has never wavered.

"I like to tell my friends at home that it's like being a freshman in college all over again," said Perry, who was undrafted out of the University of Alabama. "You're stepping into a new city, a new coaching staff, a new scheme on defense.


"It's almost like when you're out there on the field and you don't know exactly what you're doing right away, you're not able to showcase your whole skill set. But the more practice I can get, the more reps that I can get, the more confident I'm going to be and the more plays I'm going to be able to make."

Third-year safety Matt Elam's season-ending biceps tear will give Perry — and others — plenty of opportunity.


During Monday night's open workout at M&T Bank Stadium, Perry intercepted a deep pass by quarterback Matt Schaub that was deflected, a play made even more special because his father had traveled to Baltimore from Alabama to watch him practice as an NFL player for the very first time.

Moments later, fellow safety Brynden Trawick picked off a pass thrown by quarterback Joe Flacco, earning some redemption after he dropped a couple of potential interceptions during the previous day's workout.

Interceptions happen pretty regularly in training camp; quarterbacks are getting acclimated with a new group of receivers and are willing to take chances they normally wouldn't take in a regular-season game.

However, the plays made by Perry and Trawick felt significant on a day the Ravens definitively learned that Elam would not be available in 2015. With the 2013 first-round NFL draft pick headed for injured reserve, the team must count on players like Trawick, Perry, Anthony Levine, and perhaps Terrence Brooks to push projected starters Kendrick Lewis and Will Hill.

"I haven't gotten much plays on defense, but I'm comfortable with whatever I'm doing — whether it's defense, special teams or anything," said Trawick, a former undrafted free agent who has become one of the Ravens' core special teams players. "The game slows down from year one to year two. Now, I'm on my third year. The game is slowing down a lot. I'm just looking to capitalize on my opportunities."

In two seasons with the Ravens, Trawick has played a total of 55 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Levine started the first three games of his NFL career last season, but those starts were at cornerback. Perry wasn't a full-time starter in college until last season, his fifth year in the Crimson Tide program.

Brooks, meanwhile, is on the physically unable to perform list as he continues his rehabilitation from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee, injuries the 2014 third-round draft pick suffered last December.

While Elam struggled mightily last season and was eventually benched in favor of Hill, his improved form in training camp suggested he could be counted on to play a significant role on defense, even if it was as the No. 3 safety. Coach John Harbaugh said the team is focused on internal options to replace Elam in that role.


"We're not planning on bringing anybody in at this time. We think we have a lot of depth there. We have some young players that I thought stepped up tonight, so we'll see how those guys do," Harbaugh said following Monday's practice. "[Trawick] has played well. I think Anthony Levine has had a really good camp — he has played well. He's a wing corner-safety. We have Terrence Brooks still sitting in the wings, so we'll see how he does. But then Nick Perry has done a nice job. So, we like our guys."

It would seem a little risky for the Ravens to not immediately augment their depth at the position, especially given how injuries decimated their defensive backfield last season. But what other options do they have?

The free agent market has been picked through and the team has time during training camp to evaluate the younger players, let Brooks get healthier and monitor other teams' depth at safety. Later this summer, roster crunches will inevitably lead to plenty of safeties becoming available if the Ravens are in the market for one.

For now, the players insisted that they have the talent and numbers at the position to fill the void left by Elam's injury.

"I'm confident in our whole safety unit," Hill said. "Everybody has been working hard, everybody has been here for a number of years. We should know what's going on, we should be producing. At any given time, it's next man up. Everybody is expected to play at a high level."

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Said Levine: "It's tough losing Matt, but right now, our depth is looking real good right now."


Several of the Ravens' safeties weren't much interested in discussing how Elam's absence affects their own roster status. They were more concerned for Elam, who gained a lot of respect and admiration from his teammates for how hard he worked this offseason and for how he's dealt with the criticism that has come from his failure to live up to first-round draft pick form.

Trawick, who has been used some in training camp as a linebacker in the dime package, said he was going to leave it to the coaches to determine how he'd be used with Elam gone. Perry, who entered camp as a long shot to make the team, said that he is far too focused on trying to learn the defensive playbook and get acclimated to the NFL to worry about how somebody else's absence affects him.

Levine, though, acknowledged the reality of being an NFL reserve. Injuries create opportunities, and several Ravens safeties will now have to take advantage of a teammate's extended absence.

"With Matt going down, that hurts. That's our brother," Levine said. "We've been praying for him, for a speedy recovery. But that opened up more opportunity for everybody."