DeShon Elliott is in a great mood these days and that's understandable.
Entering his second season as a starting safety, Elliott is healthier and more experienced than last year at training camp, when he was coming off a major knee injury and suddenly thrust into a starting role when Earl Thomas was released.
Elliott never lacks for confidence, but there's a little extra swag this year, knowing he's a proven starter on a strong defense loaded with talented players. There was plenty on Elliott's plate in 2020 and he didn't want to drop it. Now he's ready to break out, to play like he did in college at Texas where he was an aggressive ball-hawking All-American who had nine career interceptions.
"Last year I was the young guy on the defense, so I was just trying to do my job and be consistent," Elliott said. "Now it's my job to step up and help try to lead this defense, lead this team. Hopefully I can do that. I'm working my butt off to get that done. I plan on us being great this year."
Elliott is having a strong training camp, backing up his plans to become more aggressive. As a first-year starter in 2020, Elliott didn't feel he had as much license to trust his instincts.
"When I came into the role, it was more of a mindset of … Excuse my language; it was like, 'Don't [mess] up,'" Elliott said. "And that was my job."
It often takes players more than a year to fully recover from a serious injury, and Elliott learned that firsthand. He was on the field, but did not totally feel like himself.
"Honestly last year there were a lot of things I couldn't do on the football field," Elliott said. "I was just kind of playing anyway."
Teammates and coaches have noticed Elliott reacting a split-second faster in training camp, giving him more opportunities to make plays. A sixth-round pick in 2018, Elliott entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove he should have been drafted higher. But he fractured his forearm during training camp in 2018, which cost him his rookie season, followed by the knee injury that sidelined him after six games in 2019.
This is Elliott's fourth NFL season, but he's only had one full season of experience. Having this entire year to train without recovering from injury leaves him feeling more prepared than at any time during his career.
"Now it's my job," Elliott said. "I'm not competing for a spot on this team. I'm competing for the best safety in the league.
"Having a year under my belt, I feel like I can really grasp the speed of the game. Even OTAs I was moving faster, I can break on things quicker. I see it. The game slows down for me now."
Head Coach John Harbaugh views Elliott as a player who has the potential to make a major jump in 2021.
"He always wanted to play fast," Harbaugh said. "He always wants to just cut it loose and go, which you want that. Now, I think he knows where he is going better. He really understands the defense. He understands how we organize the coverages. He understands what responsibilities he has, or what opportunities he has, to make certain calls to put us in the best situation. He's doing a great job of that. He was good last year, and he got better as the year went on. But this year, he's taken it to another level that way."
This is a contract year for Elliott, but he isn't focusing on what a strong season could do for him financially.
"The money's going to come," Elliott said. "I'm not worried about that money, I'm worried about the Super Bowl and playing with my guys. I don't play this game for the money."
However, Elliott plays to win and he is clearly playing with confidence. He is excited to see where that leads him.
"Last year I didn't play up to my standard," Elliott said. "I'm not going to put a reason on that. I just have to go out there and do my thing. I feel like at this moment I'm getting back to myself and I feel it. It's been showing on the football field and I'm just going to keep doing me."