In his first two seasons, Dannell Ellerbe went from undrafted rookie to hidden gem to injury-plagued. The Ravens inside linebacker added another label in 2011: starter.
Ellerbe started in three of the four games that 13-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis missed due to a toe injury. Ellerbe compiled 11 tackles (including a season-high seven against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 4) in those three starts.
Ellerbe, who is behind Lewis and Jameel McClain on the depth chart, doesn’t wish injury on any of his teammates and is content to bide his time.
“I’m just doing what I’ve got to do and waiting my turn,” he said after Thursday’s practice at the team’s training complex in Owings Mills. “I don’t want to rush it. I just want to get it when the time is right. I’m ready whenever the time comes.”
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, Ellerbe is a powerful tackler who has proven adept in run support. If there’s one area that he can refine, it’s his ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
Ellerbe also has to shake the spate of injuries that has followed him from the University of Georgia. A sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee forced him to sit out the first three contests of his rookie campaign, a shoulder stinger bothered him in 2010 and hamstring pulls and a concussion shelved him for seven games last year.
But Dean Pees, who is in his first year as the team’s defensive coordinator, said he doesn’t plan on holding Ellerbe’s injury history against him.
“Right now, it’s nothing because last year is last year,” Pees said Thursday. “I don’t care what anybody did last year. It means nothing. It means absolutely nothing. Everything is re-established.”
Ellerbe said battling injuries has never frustrated him.
“You never want to be injured, but being in this game for this long, that’s just a part of the game and you can’t do anything but just rehab and try to get back on the field as fast as you can,” he said. “It can be frustrating, but you can’t let it get you down because when you get down on yourself, it’s a hard hole to climb out of.”
For now, Ellerbe said his only focus is applying what he is learning in the classroom onto the practice field. And if his name is called, Ellerbe said he is prepared to fill in for Lewis, McClain or anyone else.
“I already know I can,” he said. “I’ve been showing it and I’ve been improving and whenever it’s my time, it’s going to be my time, and I’m going to be ready.”