Ellerbe Another Undrafted Ravens Gem


August 09, 2009|By MIKE PRESTON

On draft weekend in April, University of Georgia linebacker Dannell Ellerbe kept watching the clock and waiting for the phone to ring. No NFL team called during the two days, as each hour passed slowly.

A lot of teams called shortly after the draft was over, but a dream and reportedly $2,000 more in bonus money persuaded Ellerbe to sign a free-agent contract with the Ravens.

And now the fight is on.

"I just want to prove myself and show everybody that I'm good enough to play in the NFL," Ellerbe said. "It's a personal matter."

Something certainly has Ellerbe stirred up and motivated. It usually takes rookies a few practices to catch on to the speed of the NFL game, including practices, but Ellerbe has been jacking up running backs from Day 1.

He has been so impressive that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn't call him by his name, but his jersey number. That's usually reserved for players like Suggs, and No. 52, Ray Lewis.

"No. 48, right from the beginning, you could see that he had talent and came here to hit," Suggs said. "He has been playing well. He has a good feel for the game, and he swarms to the ball. A lot of rookies come here but don't move well at first because they don't know where they're going. No. 48 never had that problem."

Ellerbe began training camp on the third team, but with starting inside linebacker Tavares Gooden in and out of the lineup with injuries, Ellerbe has split time on both the first and second teams.

When training camp opened at the end of July, Gooden was expected to challenge Jameel McClain for a starting inside position next to Lewis. Move over. Ellerbe is in the mix.

"The fact is that he has been a standout player for us in training camp, and it's going to be a great battle," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "We're working him with different personnel groups trying to get him acclimated with the system. He has all the physical ability in the world, and now we're all trying to put him in position to make plays."

Ellerbe, 6 feet 1, isn't a typical Ravens inside linebacker. The Ravens prefer their linebackers sleek so they can run and cover a lot of ground. Ellerbe is more of a thumper. In football terms, he's more of a downhill type who attacks the line of scrimmage.

"He is very strong at the point of attack," DeCosta said. "He has to shore some things up, obviously, but with his aggressiveness, demeanor, reckless style, violence and heavy hands, you have to believe that he could become a really good player in this league."

Right now, here's what you're thinking: If he was that good, then why wasn't he drafted?

One reason is off-the-field issues. In 2006, when Ellerbe was 20, he was suspended for three games after being arrested and charged with a DUI, underage possession of alcohol, theft of automobile and giving false information to police.

He also had a serious knee injury that cut his playing time as a senior, dropping his tackles from a team-leading 93 as a junior to 33 in 2008.

"There might have been some things he did in college when he was young that probably hurt him," DeCosta said. "There are also some guys who just slip through the cracks like a Bart Scott or Priest Holmes. He is an aggressive kid, very explosive and has been outstanding for us."

The Ravens thought Ellerbe was worth drafting, but didn't want to use another pick on a linebacker after taking Utah's Paul Kruger in the second round and Texas Christian's Jason Phillips in the fifth.

But they pounced on Ellerbe as soon as the draft was over. It was surprising that Ellerbe signed with the Ravens, a team loaded with young linebackers, such as Gooden, McClain, Prescott Burgess, Antwan Barnes, Phillips and Kruger.

"We always practiced hard at Georgia, and you always play hard in the SEC," Ellerbe said. "It was like a blessing to sign here. Even though I didn't get drafted, I still can come here and learn from the best. It's like a perfect fit.

"You have guys like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, they have helped me. In the coaches' room, Ray is always telling me what we did right and what we did wrong. I'm beginning to become comfortable with this defense in and out."

The next step for Ellerbe is seeing the game under real playing conditions. He knows there is practice speed and then there is preseason game speed. The NFL has two more notches, one for regular season and another for the postseason.

Ellerbe isn't afraid. He has matured through some tough times on the field and off.

"That draft weekend was one of the worst times in my life," he said. "I don't think I'm over it now, I'm just dealing with it better. I won't be over it until I prove myself in the NFL."

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