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Matt Elam: It's Time For Me To Get To Next Level


Matt Elam sat by himself in a quiet locker room.

With the exception of a few stragglers, most of the Ravens had left for the day, and Elam was one of the* *last players remaining after his workout. He had just wrapped up a solid offseason practice, continuing an impressive stretch that has seemed to grab everyone's attention the last few months.

Coaches and teammates have noticed a difference in Elam, and they see a player motivated for a big year in his third NFL season.

"Matt Elam is looking awesome," cornerback Lardarius Webb said.

"Best camp he's had, bar none," Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. "Not even close."

Necessity is the mother of invention, the saying goes, and Elam knew after the 2014 season he needed to make changes. The former first-round pick struggled his first two years in Baltimore, and he made a commitment to ramp up his training.

"I just took my grind to another level," he said. "It was just a different focus because of all the things I went through last year. I just told myself: It won't happen again."

When Elam returned to Baltimore in April for the voluntary offseason program, everyone took notice. He slimmed down. He had a different aurora about him. He had a bright outlook.  

As Elam looked ahead to his third season, he didn't hide from his past struggles, but spoke with confidence about his expectations.

"I've played two years and learned a lot and I just feel like it's time. It's past due." Elam said. "I didn't make the plays I was expected to make. They brought me here as a first-round pick, so they expect big things from me. I just feel like I have to take myself to the next level."

Elam was the No. 32 overall pick of the 2013 draft, and he took over a starting job one game into his rookie season. He started the rest of that year and went into his sophomore campaign hoping to become a defensive playmaker.

But Elam struggled last year, as the Ravens moved him from free safety to more of an in-the-box defender. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage put him in position to use his strengths as a sure tackler, but he even had issues in that area.

His snaps diminished toward the end of the year, and his season finished on a frustrating note where he missed key tackles during the AFC divisional round loss to the Patriots.

Before Elam left Baltimore for the offseason, he met with Pees to have an open conversation about where he needed to improve. Pees pointed to his coverage in the deep half of the field, consistency as a tackler and taking better angles to the football.

Elam took a break no longer than a few days after the season, and then went right back to work.

"He told me what he thought I should work on. We perfected that," Elam said. "We perfected that all offseason. We worked out every day at my high school. I made sure that when I got here, I was prepared. I just have to stay consistent."

The Ravens have made it clear this offseason, they expect Elam to make significant strides in 2015. General Manager Ozzie Newsome said in May that "we have not been satisfied with the way he's played thus far."

The message resonated with Elam.

"I just feel like it's a challenge," Elam said. "Sometimes that's what people need – a coach to tell them they're not happy, or people to say what they're not happy about. Maybe sometimes that's a good thing to challenge guys and bring the best out of guys."

The Ravens also made personnel moves this offseason to give Elam additional competition for playing time. The team signed veteran safety Kendrick Lewis, who is expected to start as a rangy free safety on the back end of the defense.

Will Hill and Elam split first-team reps next to Lewis at the other safety position during the offseason practices. Elam made his share of plays in Organized Team Activities and minicamp. He routinely found himself around the football, and even came up with a couple interceptions.

"You can just see the change in him, in his attitude, in his confidence," Webb said. "He wants to improve, he wants to be better than he has, and all of us have been through that. I can just see where he's trying to go."

The next step for Elam is to stay on the upward trend when the Ravens begin training camp next month. Making plays when the pads come on will be critical in training camp and the preseason, and it will give Elam a chance to show he's ready to take a big step in his career.  

"I want to prove myself, that I can play in this league. My first two years I feel like I haven't proven myself, that I can play in this league. I feel like I let myself down for the last two years," Elam said.

"I prepared this offseason unhappy with the first two years so I'm just trying to put myself in the best situation to show the coaches what I can do – what I really can do – and why they really brought me here."

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