When the Ravens opened the game Sunday against the Titans, second-year safety Matt Elam was standing on the sideline.
It was just the second game of Elam's career that he didn't start.
The 2013 first-round pick played 15 snaps in the victory over Tennessee – his lowest total since Week 1 of last year – leading to questions about whether Elam had lost his starting job.
Despite the decline in reps, the Ravens stressed that Elam hasn't fallen in the pecking order.
"The situation with Matt is I think everybody is reading a little more into it than we certainly are," Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's a starting safety for us; they all are."
With Elam taking few reps, Will Hill and Darian Stewart both saw the bulk of the snaps on the back end of the defense. Rookie Terrence Brooks also played more snaps than Elam, as he was primarily used in passing situations.
The reason for the decline in Elam's playing time is that the Ravens have put him in packages where he can play in the box near the line of scrimmage. He's known as a downhill defender who is strong against the run, and the Ravens want to use him in that role. Elam has also filled in at nickel back throughout the year because injuries have the Ravens shorthanded at cornerback.
"We've tried to get Matt in positions where he excels," Secondary Coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "For him, it's really down toward close to the line of scrimmage, so he plays a little bit more nickel. He's a better cover guy in that spot than I thought."
Elam's playing time has been up and down throughout the season. He began the year as one of the starting safeties along with Stewart, when the Ravens were still going with a two-man approach on the back end of the defense.
After the fourth game, the Ravens used more of a rotation in the secondary. The group is even more crowded now after the emergence of Hill as a free safety.
Pees compared the rotation in the secondary to what the Ravens have at outside linebacker with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw.
"They all have their role, and they all play that role. It's kind of the same way with the safeties," he said. "I think we're blessed to have the safeties we have."
On the season, Elam has 32 tackles, a half-sack, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. He's gone through his growing pains during his second season in Baltimore, and his playing time moving forward could increase in upcoming games depending on the opponent each week.
"He could play 40 snaps one week, and he can play 15 the next," Pees said. "A lot of it is based on what the game plan is going in against a certain team on offense, a certain quarterback, how much we're going to play different packages."