Matt Elam is used to making big plays.
During his All-American days at the University of Florida, Elam had a reputation for delivering big hits and coming up with timely interceptions.
But through his first seven NFL games, the first-round pick has been relatively quiet. He quickly earned a starting job and has drawn praise from the coaching staff, but he has yet to notch an interception or come up with a game-changing play.
Elam expects that to change in the second half of the season.
"More plays will be made," he said. "More hands will be on the ball."
Elam won a starting job over veteran Michael Huff after the first game of the season, and he has 30 tackles, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery this year.
"I feel like I'm playing alright, but I'm not playing to the level that I think I should be," Elam said. "That's just about me keeping on improving, studying and learning the game. I feel like the second half of the season it's going to be that because of the way I'm learning the game and the way I'm studying."
Elam admits that he is his own worst critic. He has been a star throughout his football career, and he came into the NFL with big expectations.
He impressed the Ravens from the time he arrived in Baltimore, and the coaches have praised him for his intensity, passion and approach to his craft.
"I love the way he plays," Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. "He plays hard. He's a go-getter."
One of the challenges of adjusting to the NFL is that Elam has seen opposing teams test* *him. After taking over the starting job in Week 2, Elam noticed that quarterbacks wanted to target him in coverage.
The 5-foot-10 safety has a reputation of being a big hitter in the run game, so teams have tried to exploit him with deep shots over the middle of the field.
"I've been seeing that every game," Elam said. "They know how aggressive I am. They know I want to come down and hit a guy. The first couple games, they were really trying to go at me and get guys behind me, but I feel like I know it's one of my weaknesses and I've been working on it. I did a lot better the last game."
Elam got beat deep over the middle of the field by Browns tight end Jordan Cameron in his first game as a starter, but since then he has done a better job keeping plays in front of him.
"Sometimes, he's got to learn to play a little better under control," Pees said. "This isn't Florida, where you can fly around there and wallop somebody. These guys can make you miss. Sometimes, you've just got to learn to play a little more under control."
As Elam looks ahead to the second half of the season, the way he expects to separate himself is in his preparation. He has placed an emphasis on film study and reading offenses, which comes with experience in the league.
"It all falls back on me studying and knowing what's going on," he said. "It's all about how you prepare yourself. Everybody has the same athletic ability. Everybody runs fast. Everybody is big. Everybody is strong. You have to separate yourself with knowledge."
The Ravens have high hopes for Elam heading into the second half of the season, and he could prove be a vital piece of the defense down the stretch.
"The more he plays, the better he's going to be," Pees said. "He loves playing football – that's what I love about him. He enjoys the game. It means a lot to him. He studies hard and works hard in practice."