OWINGS MILLS — To the Baltimore Ravens, 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam grew as last season went on.
Elam had some bad moments, like getting beat by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green for a 53-yard touchdown in Week 17.
He also didn't make many impact plays, finishing without a forced fumble and with just one interception and just three pass deflections.
But the Ravens felt Elam progressively improved, progressively became more comfortable within the defense and progressively became more of a presence. And to cornerback Lardarius Webb, Elam is noticeably further along even just since the end of the season.
"The person who is just really growing is Matt Elam," Webb said after an organized team activity practice last week. "From last year to this year, I see a big jump with his leadership, with him controlling the back end and just being that safety controlling the calls. I just really like where I see him going."
Elam's leadership and confidence were the two biggest things that stuck out to Webb last week.
"I'm seeing him just taking control – just taking control with communicating with the linebackers and with me," Webb said. "Last year, I was a veteran, so I guess he didn't communicate with me like he wanted to. Now, if he says it, it's what he says. We play what he says. It's just how he speaks. He speaks with confidence now, and you can just tell."
Veteran safety James Ihedigbo made the calls for Baltimore's secondary last year and was responsible for making sure every member of the Ravens' back-end knew what was going on leading up to any given play, but Webb said Elam is taking on that role with Ihedigbo now in Detroit.
"[He's] being more vocal," Webb said, later adding, "and when he is being vocal, he's confident in what he's saying. If he makes a call, that's the call, and you're going to play it. Last year, he wasn't like that."
But Webb said Elam has looked good during practice, too.
Elam played primarily free safety as a rookie, but the Ravens plan to use him more at strong safety with Ihedigbo gone, the position he feels he fits best at.
Elam wants to be closer to the line of scrimmage than he was last season, and he figures to get the opportunity to be in that position more often this year.
Now, last week was nothing more than a moderate intensity, early offseason OTA that players weren't even in full pads for. But one thing in particular did stick out to Webb in a positive way about Elam's play last week.
"Not really that many mental [mistakes]," Webb said.