DeShon Elliott Adds His Swagger to Ravens Defense

S DeShon Elliott

DeShon Elliott got his "Joker" nickname from his college position coach at Texas, who took notice of the large comic book villain tattoo Elliott has on his left forearm. It stuck after Elliott returned an interception for a touchdown against USC.

Elliott has turned it into his football persona. He even has thigh pads with the Joker's face on them, just barely visible under his white pants.

"Just like the 'Joker,' you never know what's going to happen," Elliott said. "We're both going to come crazy, we're both going to come wild, [and] we're going to handle our business – no matter what."

As the Ravens move on from seven-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas III, they turn to Elliott – a third-year safety with a style and personality that is a perfect match for Baltimore's defense.

Elliott has played in just six NFL regular-season games because of two season-ending injuries in his first two seasons. So why do the Ravens have so much confidence in Elliott? It's partly because he has so much confidence in himself.

"He's definitely a confident young man – sometimes too confident," Pass Defense Coordinator Chris Hewitt said with a chuckle. "He's just one of those guys. I love the way that he plays."

Asked what he thought of his coach saying he may be too confident, Elliott grinned.

"I wouldn't say overconfident. I feel like being confident in your abilities comes from knowing that you prepared the right way. If you're preparing the right way, then you're going to be confident in yourself," he said.

"I've been preparing as a starter for two years. And so, I know what I can do, and I know what I can bring to this team to help my teammates be great. And they expect me to be great, and I love that they expect me to be great. And honestly, if he [Hewitt] says it's overconfidence, I'm going to prove to everybody out there that my confidence is very worthy of it."

Elliott was a big-time playmaker in college. He was a unanimous All-American his junior year after intercepting six passes, forcing three fumbles and scoring two touchdowns, and decided to declare for the NFL.

The other All-American safety in 2017 was Minkah Fitzpatrick, who ended up being drafted 11th overall the following April. Elliott, however, wasn't selected until pick 190 in the sixth round. The draft analysts said he "wasn't fluid in space," and labeled him as a box safety.

That night, Elliott said he was "completely in shock." It lit a fire under Elliott that has stuck with him.

But Elliott didn't have the avenue he desired to exercise that fire. The Ravens had signed Tony Jefferson a month earlier and veteran Pro Bowler Eric Weddle was their other starter. Baltimore had drafted another safety, Chuck Clark, in the sixth round the year before.

So even though he was confident and frustrated, Elliott had to sit back and listen. First, he had to make the team by standing out on special teams. It was on a kickoff coverage in a preseason game in Miami that Elliott fractured his forearm, ending his rookie season before it started.

Elliott didn't stop learning, even when he couldn't step onto the field. From Weddle, he learned how important it was to devour the playbook.

"He was a master when it came to the playbook," Elliott said. "He knew exactly what was going to go on. Every play during the game, he could tell everybody what to do on their assignments. I strive to be that great. I strive to be that mentally tough. I strive to be that smart in this game of football."

From Jefferson, Elliott learned how to be even more of a "dog." "I already had the 'dog,' but he brought that 'West Coast dog,'" Elliott said with a laugh.

From Clark, Elliott learned patience. Clark started just two games in emergency relief duty his first two seasons. Last year, he got his first chance at being a full-time starter after Jefferson went down with a season-ending knee injury, and Clark ran with it. Now the two will be side-by-side as the Ravens' starters.

"Weddle and Tony were more of my mentors, but Chuck was there to help me and guide me along," Elliott said. "See, I wasn't used to sitting behind anybody. So he was already here and was experiencing it, and I was asking him, 'How does it work?' I kind of just learned how to grow from him. And then, sitting back and watching his success, watching how hard he worked, and just being able to see the path that he's about to start, I just want to be a part of that. Honestly, Chuck is my 'dog.' I ride for Chuck. Win or lose, I'll always ride for Chuck."

Elliott was supposed to get his first real playing time last season, right in lockstep with Clark. Jefferson's injury moved everyone up the depth chart, so Elliott was slated to be a rotational safety deployed in certain defensive packages.

Strangely enough, Elliott's "premier" took place three days after the debut of "Joker" in theaters. He had already seen it twice by the time he hit the field.

Elliott played 25 snaps that game. He made a fine play ranging from the middle of the field all the way to the sideline to break up a pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Just when it looked like Boyd might make a circus catch, Elliott dislodged the ball with a ferocious hit.

On the 25th snap, Elliott's knee gave way. Just when it was starting, his season was over.

"It definitely hurt me, but it made me tougher, it made me more mature, it made me look at the game differently on the mental aspect of it," Elliott said.

Elliott went to work rehabbing, which was made harder with the COVID pandemic. He trained with Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.

"I think I've got myself together physically, mentally and spiritually. I feel like God is going to bless me with the things I need to stay healthy this year," Elliott said. "I'm going to do the best I can to stay healthy for my teammates and play for them. I love this team. I love my defense."

While the Ravens' secondary is down one Pro Bowler with Thomas' exit, the brotherhood of that unit is alive and well. Elliott's coaches and teammates are all eager to see what he'll do with his chance.

Elliott certainly won't let them forget about him. You know where Elliott is anytime he's on the field. You've just got to stop and listen.

"He likes to talk. It's a good thing, most of the time, and sometimes, you have to tell him, 'OK. I've heard enough,'" Harbaugh said with a laugh. "This guy is energetic, an 'all-ball' kind of a guy. A great communicator on the field, and also a great communicator off the field, too. It's just who he is, and I'm real pleased with that part of him."

"You've got to have that confidence and that swagger on the field, and he has a lot of it," Clark said. "We love it as a defense. If he makes a play, you're definitely going to hear it from him. Or if somebody else makes a play on our defense, you're going to hear from him about it. We love that, and that he brings that."

Elliott said he and Clark are "going to make some noise out there" this season – and he means with more than their mouths. Clark isn't much of a talker anyway, but Elliott plans on backing it up with his pads too.

There will be many eyes on Elliott, watching to see how he replaces Thomas. The Ravens have a loaded secondary and a defense that expects to be the best in the league. Now they have a new safety with just a handful of games under his belt.

"Earl is a Hall of Famer, no doubt. So, of course, I respect Earl and his game," Elliott said. "But I'm not worried about Earl; I'm worried about me and what I can bring to this team for my teammates. I know I'm going to make my plays, [and] I know we're going to strive to be great. So, whatever I have to do to do that, that's what's going to happen. Whether it's eight picks, 10 picks or no picks, whatever I need to do to help my team be great and win every game we need to win to accomplish our end goal, that's all I care about."

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