Ozzie Newsome had just informed Matt Elam on the phone that he would be the Ravens’ first-round pick.
That’s when Newsome decided to give Elam a quick history lesson to make sure the Florida safety knew exactly who he would be stepping in for on the Ravens defense.
“What player did we lose this year to the Texans?” Newsome asked, referring to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. “Now what player is going to be able to come in and line up in our secondary and play the game like an All-Pro player?
“Matt Elam? Ok, that’s what I wanted to hear.”
Elam knows what’s expected of him.
The Ravens aren’t necessarily asking him to replace Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowler, but they are asking him to step in and take over as safety on the back end of the Ravens defense.
“I know that would be real big to fill Ed’s shoes,” Elam said. “But I come in and work to improve and do whatever it takes to get that opportunity to fill his shoes.”
The Ravens lost both of last year’s starting safeties – Reed and Bernard Pollard – and they have drafted Elam and signed veteran
Elam said that his goal is to earn a starting job out of the gate, but he doesn’t expect it just to be handed his way because he’s a first-round pick.
“I don’t want anything given,” Elam said. “Growing up I had to work through things and my parents and my brothers always made me earn things. I don’t want anything given. If it’s given that means it’s not earned.”
A big question for Elam when he arrived in Baltimore Friday was whether he sees himself as more of a strong or free safety. He was known as a hard-hitting strong safety in college who liked to come up and play the run, but he could also slide back to defend the pass and reeled in four interceptions last year.
With his reputation as a big hitter, it seems that Elam would be a natural fit for Pollard’s strong safety spot, more than Reed’s role of roaming center field as a free safety.
Rather than putting him into a specific category, the Ravens want Elam to join Huff and
“Really, all of those guys are interchangeable,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. “Nobody has specific, ‘You’re the strong safety, you’re the free safety.’
“You’re a safety. So he needs to know both. He needs to know nickel. He needs to know a lot of things there on defense to see where he ends up fitting, just like they all do.”
Elam is confident he can play both safety positions, saying that he sees himself as a versatile player. The Ravens could see him getting time at both positions, and the point they’ve made on numerous occasions is that the love the way he’s able to come up and tackle.
“He can cover very well, he’s played high, he’s played low, he’s got good ball skills, he’s tough, he tackles extremely well,” Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said. “I think the thing when you talk about Matt Elam that we all recognized early, is this guy is a physical guy who can tackle.”
That knack for being a physical player compensates for what Elam lacks in size. He’s 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, which is a few inches shorter than the ideal height for a safety.
While that size likely factored into him being available at the end of the first round, the Ravens weren’t worried about how the first-team All-American would adjust to covering big tight ends and receivers in the NFL.
“There are tall guys that play short, and short guys that play tall,” Pees said. “There are slow guys that play fast, and there are fast guys that play slow. To me, it has nothing to do with that. … It’s not a concern.”
Elam’s arrival in Baltimore fills a major hole in the back end of its defense, and is a key step in rebuilding the foundation of a defense that lost seven players with starting experience. He has the talent to plug in and play right away, and has the Ravens in a much better spot than just a few months ago.
“All I can tell you is that we couldn’t be happier with the selection that we had,” Pees said. “It’s a great scenario for all of us.”