Dannell Ellerbe has earned the trust of the Ravens coaches. Getting the respect of the other 31 teams in the NFL is another matter.
The rookie inside linebacker went undrafted this past April after his senior year at Georgia was derailed by a sprained knee. After signing with the Ravens, Ellerbe has progressed to the point where he has leapfrogged Jameel McClain and Prescott Burgess on the depth chart and started for an injured Tavares Gooden (groin) the past two weeks.
Ellerbe, who could start again Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, as Gooden was limited in practice for the second consecutive day, said he carries the pain of being undrafted with him.
"Going into my senior season, I was, like, the No. 2 linebacker in the country and then I got hurt," he said. "The talent was there. It was just that I got hurt. I just wanted to prove to everybody that I'm healthy now and that I'm the same guy that they passed on in the draft."
The 6-foot-1, 243-pound Ellerbe impressed Ravens coaches and officials with his physical play in training camp, becoming the only rookie free agent to make the active roster. He got his first test in a Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots, where - filling in for Gooden - he made six tackles.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said the decision to start Ellerbe against the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers the past two weeks was simple.
"It's what we do with every player," Mattison said. "It's when you look at the tape and you see a guy going in and making plays when he's supposed to make plays. And then it's the same thing with the guy that he is competing with or is nicked up. Then you say, 'OK, let's go with the healthy one.' Ellerbe's another good example of a guy that just keeps getting better as he goes in there. That's what you expect of every player here."
Ellerbe is an effective cog against the run, and he has also been asked at times to drop back into coverage. Both are areas he hopes to improve on.
"There's not one thing that I think is up to par just yet," he said. "Throughout my whole career, I just want to improve on everything."
Free safety Ed Reed
took one step closer to playing for the first time in five weeks. The five-time Pro Bowler (strained groin/foot) was upgraded to limited participation Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's session.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs (sprained ligament in right knee/thigh) and defensive end Trevor Pryce (illness) - both of whom did not practice Wednesday - were also upgraded to limited participation.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason missed his second consecutive day of practice due to a knee injury.
Offensive tackle Oniel Cousins (knee) was upgraded to full participation after being limited Wednesday. Cousins wore a brace on his left knee and stood on a sideline while the rest of the offensive line completed its individual drills, but he vowed to be available Sunday.
"It's getting better," Cousins said of the knee. "I'll be ready to go."
Linebacker Jarret Johnson (left shoulder/back/knee) and cornerback Cary Williams (thigh) fully practiced for the second consecutive day. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (lower back stiffness/foot) was taken off the injury report.
Of the 212 players who would become restricted rather than unrestricted free agents if the 2010 season is begun without a salary cap, 10 are Ravens.
They are wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, offensive tackles Adam Terry and Tony Moll, cornerback Fabian Washington, guard Chris Chester, defensive end Dwan Edwards, tight end Quinn Sypniewski, punter Sam Koch and kicker Billy Cundiff.
Clayton, the franchise's first pick in the 2005 draft, summed up the sentiment of many of his teammates, saying he hasn't thought about anything beyond this season.
"I've been here five years and the organization has been good to me," Clayton said of the possibility of being unable to test the free-agent market. "So it's not frustrating. When we get there, we'll work out everything like we're supposed to, and everything will be all right."
Return in the works?
On Monday, Cundiff was praised by coach John Harbaugh
, but his future with the Ravens was left open-ended.
Cundiff, who has made 12 of 15 field goals since replacing Steve Hauschka on Nov. 18, said he is open to remaining with the Ravens.
"I'd like to stay here," Cundiff said. "But that's up to them. They're the ones that will make the decision. They'll let me know if they want me back."