What gets lost in the Ravens' goal line stand in Super Bowl XLVII was the man who came screaming up the middle.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe blitzed and pressured 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, leading to a high and incomplete pass on fourth down. But after the play, linebacker Ray Lewis got the camera and cornerback
It turned out to be Ellerbe’s final play as a Raven, something he didn’t anticipate when he left New Orleans.
“I was sure that I was going to be back in black and purple,” Ellerbe said.
When Lewis announced his retirement, Ellerbe was quickly seen as the possible heir to his position. The problem was, he was set to be a free agent.
The Ravens planned on turning over their defense this offseason, but wanted Ellerbe back. They saw him as a talented, young and improving linebacker. Ellerbe had a desire to return as well.
The money was too alluring. But that’s not all.
An opportunity to create a name for himself was too sweet for Ellerbe to come back to Baltimore. He signed a reported five-year, $35 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.
Now when the Ravens play in Miami this Sunday, they’ll see Ellerbe as the leader in the Dolphins’ defense and a linebacker that is putting his own stamp on the NFL.
“I would always be in the shadow there,” Ellerbe said of Baltimore.
“This is a better position for me to come down here and make a name for myself, to be able to be one of the top leaders on this defense, a new defense that’s up and coming and a young defense, one that I would be valued more on down here.”
In his first season with the Dolphins, Ellerbe is tearing it up.
He leads the Dolphins with 38 tackles. He’s the one calling out the defenses, getting everyone lined up and playing every down. His play in the middle of the Dolphins defense is a major reason why Miami is a surprising 3-1 so far this season.
“I think that he has exhibited excellent leadership qualities,” Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “He is very smart, he’s instinctive, very professional, takes care of himself on and off the field and he has been a great addition to the ball club.”
Ellerbe said it has been an awesome feeling to learn from the Ravens’ leaders and then apply it to what he’s doing in Miami. But he’s getting used to the whole leadership thing. He didn’t have to do much of that in Baltimore with Lewis, Ed Reed,
“There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it because you try your best to help your team succeed and you put the team on your shoulders. Anything goes wrong, I feel like you beat yourself up for it even if it was something you couldn’t change,” Ellerbe said.
“It’s just a different feeling right now than I used to have. You’re the guy now that everybody looks up to [to] make a play or the guy that they look up to [to] give a speech or get the guys up. I’m just happy that I’m in a position to be in that role on this team.”
Ellerbe had a windy path in Baltimore, and spent his fair share of time on the bench.
The Ravens signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Georgia, and made him a starter at the end of that rookie season. But Ellerbe’s immaturity and injuries led to him starting just four games the next two seasons.
Things finally clicked for Ellerbe last season. He played in 13 games, started seven and registered 92 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Ellerbe averaged eight tackles per game during the postseason and intercepted New England’s Tom Brady, all while playing with two broken thumbs.
Now the Ravens will have to deal with that on the other end.
Head Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback
“We see all the things that he ever meant to us here and even better,” Harbaugh said. “It seems like he’s taken his game to even a higher level. Sideline to sideline, he makes plays on runs. Inside screens, outside – he’s good in pass coverage. He’s a complete linebacker right now.”
Joe Flacco and Ellerbe were neighbors in the Ravens locker room and had a good relationship, according to Flacco. The Ravens quarterback said it will be interesting playing against him because the Dolphins use Ellerbe in a variety of ways.
“He and [Philip] Wheeler can blitz and get to the quarterback and can make running backs miss pretty well,” Flacco said. “At the same time, he plays physical and can run sideline to sideline and grab guys up around the neck and head and put all his weight on them and throw them to the ground. I like the way he plays.”
Ellerbe still thinks back to that fourth-down play in Super Bowl XLVII. He still sees himself as a Raven sometimes.
“Every time I see it on TV, I think about it. It just seems like it just happened yesterday,” he said. “That’s something that drives me today to get back into that position, get back to the Super Bowl and win again.”