Three weeks before their season-opener, the Ravens are suddenly welcoming a new starter into their defense.
The release of safety Earl Thomas thrusts third-year safety DeShon Elliott into the spotlight, as the Ravens look to replace a seven-time Pro Bowler.
"It's his time," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "So here we go."
Elliott is a talented young player who has been chomping at the bit to get on the field. He's had a hard time waiting, whether it be because of veterans ahead on the depth chart or injuries.
His rookie season was cut short by a broken forearm in a preseason game. When it looked like he was going to get his long-awaited opportunity as a sophomore, after Tony Jefferson went down with a torn ACL, Elliott suffered a season-ending knee injury in the very next game.
That has limited Elliott to just six games and six tackles in his young career. But while those outside Baltimore don't know much about Elliott, those inside the Under Armour Performance Center have been eager to see what he's got.
"DeShon has been ready to go every since he got here as a rookie. I've been really impressed with him since the time he came in here," Pass Defense Coordinator Chris Hewitt said.
"He's definitely deserving of play. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when he gets out there. He's definitely ready to go. He has a great chemistry out there with the rest of the guys, and they're hyped up to have him out there."
Elliott is a sixth-round pick out of Texas – the same school Thomas starred at. Like Thomas, Elliott was a big-time college playmaker. In his junior season, he picked off six passes, returned two for touchdowns, and forced three fumbles.
Nicknamed "The Joker" by a college defensive coach, Elliott declared early for the draft and ended up being picked much later than he expected. He's been carrying that chip on his shoulder for the past two years.
"He's definitely a confident young man – sometimes too confident," Hewitt said with a chuckle. "He definitely doesn't lack for confidence in any endeavor. He's just that kind of kid. He's an Energizer Bunny. He comes in the building and he's just ready to go.
When he gets out on the field, he brings energy to the rest of the defense. He's just one of those guys. I love the way that he plays."
In practice, preseason games and his limited regular-season action, Elliott has shown himself to be an aggressive player who can cover a lot of ground and lay big hits when he arrives at his destination. Hewitt called him a "hard-charging kid."
Even in Sunday's M&T Bank Stadium practice, his second day running with the first-team defense, Elliott scooped up a pair of fumbles. Elliott was one of the defensive standouts in last year's training camp, often on the other end of interceptions.
Hewitt praised Elliott's work the past two years, even though he was frustrated not to be getting the opportunities he yearned for. Hewitt said whether it's arriving early and leaving late, or his work in the weight room and meeting rooms, Elliott has taken "every opportunity that he gets to make himself better."
"He attacks whatever is in front of him," Hewitt said. "Right now, it's to get ready to play against Cleveland."