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Matt Elam Itching For Interceptions

Posted Dec 5, 2013

The rookie safety is trying to stay patient and adapt to free safety.

The allure of interceptions is strong for a defensive back, especially one as accustomed to making plays as Ravens first-round pick Matt Elam.

So when talking about the fact that he hasn’t notched a pick in his first 12 NFL games, Elam has to show self-restraint.

“I want one so bad,” Elam said. “It’s kind of got me down a little bit. But I just know it’s a learning process. It’s all about being patient.”

Elam notched six interceptions over his final two years at the University of Florida, including four as a junior, before leaving for the NFL. He did it playing mostly strong safety in his first two years and nickel cornerback in his final, which put him closer to the line of scrimmage and incoming passes.

With James Ihedigbo planted at strong safety, which allows him to make a lot of the calls for the defensive secondary, Elam has been at free safety for the Ravens. It’s a spot that he’s not exactly smitten with.

“I don’t like it at all,” Elam said. “I’m away from the action most of the time. But I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win.

“I feel like I’m adjusting and adjusting well. It’s taking a lot of patience because a lot of action doesn’t come my way.”

Elam has only been targeted by 26 passes all year long and given up 15 receptions, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

He’s only been in coverage on two passes combined in the past two games. There were back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Cleveland in Weeks 7 and 9 when he didn’t see a single pass come his way. The Steelers went at him just once in two meetings.

Elam did have a shot at making a play on the ball against the Steelers on a lobbed pass by Ben Roethlisberger. He instead went for a big hit and the wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders held on for a first down. When Elam got to the bench, Defensive Backs Coach Teryl Austin has some advice for him.

"Go after that ball," Austin said. "If you just continue to just never go after the ball, they'll throw the ball at you every time because they know you'll never go after it and you'll just go for the hit. You've got to be a guy they're scared to throw the ball to."

Elam’s best chance for an interception came in Week 10 when a pass from Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton was off target deep down the field. The ball glanced off Elam’s hands and straight to Ihedigbo, who made his second interception of the day.

Elam got a ribbing from his teammates after that one, and they have continued to playfully prod him about not having a pick.

“I’m getting it, I’m getting it,” Elam said of the teasing. “They’re supposed to.”

But even though Elam hasn’t been much of a ball-hawk this season, he has been solid on the back end, which is more than can be said for many rookie safeties. It’s a difficult position to master from the mental standpoint.

“He’s always been a physical guy. We already knew that,” cornerback Corey Graham said.

“He’s learned the defense a lot better. He knows what’s going on, he’s more prepared, he’s studying very well and he’s becoming a student of the game. He’s come a long way so far. I always thought he was pretty smart being able to learn safety right away, but you can see the progress he’s made over the season.”

Despite some good-natured ribbing, Graham has been in Elam’s ear telling him to be patient about the interceptions. Often times interceptions come for free safeties when there’s an overthrow or tipped pass, so sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw.

Elam is keeping his head down with an eye on the future.

“I feel like this is a learning process this year,” he said. “I’m taking it to improve on all the small things so when next year comes I can be prepared and know everything that’s coming. I’m taking this as a learning year to improve and better myself.”

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