Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe emerges from shadows

Thought to be in Harbaugh's doghouse, second-year player breaks out vs. Saints, looks to keep making impact

December 24, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Few people would fault Dannell Ellerbe for being disgruntled and disillusioned about being more of a spectator rather than a participant over the past month.

Except that's not the approach the Ravens linebacker is taking.

"Yeah, I had them, but this is a business," Ellerbe said of harboring negative feelings. "It really doesn't matter why. I'm back out there now."

His status for Sunday's AFC North showdown with the Cleveland Browns is still up in the air, but Ellerbe might have carved out a role with his performance in the Ravens' 30-24 win over the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday.

He made six tackles — one for a loss — and sacked quarterback Drew Brees once, reviving memories of his flourish at the end of last season, when he started two regular-season and two postseason games at inside linebacker as an undrafted rookie.

Considered the favorite to start alongside 11-time Pro Bowl selection Ray Lewis, Ellerbe was the starter during the Ravens' organized team activities but slipped to second behind Jameel McClain in training camp.

Conceding that he was shocked at the demotion, Ellerbe said he tried to move forward.

"I just look at it as a steppingstone," he said. "I'm just learning as I go."

Ellerbe played in the team's first seven contests, starting against the Browns on Sept. 26. But he was deactivated for five of the next six games, and his effort against the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 11 was questioned when Ellerbe appeared to pull up rather than chase down running back Jason Snelling on a touchdown catch.

Ellerbe said he neither knows nor wants to learn the rationale behind his being made inactive, but defensive coordinator Greg Mattison hinted that Ellerbe's development needed fine-tuning.

"There's a learning process for every young football player, especially with the numbers that we have," Mattison said Thursday. "All you can do is go by who fits the bill as far as special teams and linebacker. Dannell has done a good job. He's worked hard, he's got great talent, and you know that anytime he goes in there, he's going to play. And that's what he did, and that's what you expect out of every guy."

Coach John Harbaugh said one factor in a player's availability is his performance in practice.

"The better you play and the better you practice, the more value you have," he said Friday. "I think guys understand that. The good thing about our team at that level of becoming active is, we've got a lot of competition, and it's tough on some guys."

Ellerbe wasn't sure whether he was practicing better, but he said his demeanor and approach to football didn't change.

"I really didn't get frustrated because I know what I can do," he said. "It's a career, and not everything is going to go your way. I'm in it for the long run, and I'm just going to keep working until I get my shot."

Cornerback Lardarius Webb, whose locker neighbors Ellerbe's, said he could sense his teammate's desire to play.

"I think anybody who is a competitor and knows his ability, he's going to be frustrated a little because he doesn't know why he's not playing," Webb said. "When you're coming out every day and giving it your all and then on game day, you're not one of the guys that dresses out, it's going to affect anyone. That's things you have to go through, but look at how he bounced back."

For all the talk about residing in Harbaugh's doghouse, Ellerbe never used that as an excuse for his being sidelined. Instead, Ellerbe said he was just happy to play well against New Orleans.

"It felt great," he said. "It felt kind of funny because I hadn't been out there in a while and I hadn't felt that feeling of when the fans cheered for me. It was kind of letting the dog out of the cage and he finally gets to run around and have fun. So I was just running around like my hair was on fire."

Several of Ellerbe's teammates said they weren't surprised to see him contribute to the Ravens' win over the Saints.

"It's the league," fellow linebacker Tavares Gooden said. "Certain guys are up and certain guys are down for reasons. We all understand that, and we're just happy to have him back. Whenver he plays, it's great, because he makes plays."

Ellerbe said he has not been given advance notice about his role for Sunday, which could range from being a healthy scratch to playing in the defense's nickel and dime packages. But Ellerbe insisted he's fine either way.

"I'll just play it by ear and just be ready," he said. "Whenever they call me to go in, I'll just go in and do what I do. Do what I do to make plays and help the defense stop the offense."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

    Baltimore Sun Articles
    |
    |
    |
    Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.