As he met with the local media for the first time, Ravens first round draft pick Matt Elam, a safety from the University of Florida, made quite an impression. Elam was glowing and wore a smile that stretched from cheek to cheek. Also smiling were members of the Ravens front office, who all unanimously had regarded Elam as the highest priority on their draft board.
The Ravens got their man.
Elam drew praise from his defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, who accompanied him at his press conference (the rest of the Ravens went back to the “War Room” after posing for a picture with him).
“The guy can run, the guy can cover and most of all… he can hit,” Pees said, speaking of Elam’s gameplay.
Elam’s smash-mouth approach is something the Ravens have coveted ever since Ray Lewis stepped on the field in their uniform. While Elam’s attributes fit the prototypical mold of a “Raven,” he’ll need to play with more caution. Judging from some of the highlights the Ravens showed of Elam today, he could potentially be on speed dial with the NFL Commissioner’s office…just like previous Ravens safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed.
Pollard and Reed were even brought up by Elam as players he admired for their toughness and intensity. For as much good as they brought to the team and the fear they struck in the eyes of opponents, they also committed costly penalties, for the team and themselves personally. In 2012 alone, the two were flagged for a combined 11 personal foul penalties (15 yards each) and fined $149,125 collectively ($126,000 belonging to Reed).
“Seeing the playoff and the Super Bowl last year, with [Bernard] Pollard, Ray Lewis and [Ed] Reed just hitting people and just the aggressive defense – that’s my style play,” Elam said. “Playing smash-mouth football, I’ve always been a fan of that.”
Multiple YouTube highlight films exist of Elam’s best plays as a Florida Gator. As previously mentioned, the Ravens showed off a new massive video screen backdrop at their facility this week, playing some of Elam’s highlights. On that video were plays that he was allowed to get away with in college, but that might not fly in the NFL. With the watered down gameplay and safety concerns from pending law suits against the NFL, Elam could find himself flagged and fined multiple times if he doesn’t adjust.
During his press conference, I asked Elam if he was concerned about having to change various aspects of his game due to the NFL’s increased safety concerns.
“I feel like I won’t let up a bit,” Elam replied. “I’ll just rely on my technique. Like I said, I’ll improve every day in practice, and I feel like it won’t be a problem. I’ll rely on my technique. It won’t slow me down a bit.”
Just before, Pees had made the statement, “Every football player has some weaknesses – they have strengths and they have weaknesses. What they have to do is figure out how to over their weaknesses and use their strength to overcome that weakness and play to their ability.”
For Elam, his aggressive style isn’t a weakness at all, it’s what has led him to being the high profile safety that he is today. Unfortunately, times and rules have had to change and Elam will be just one of many aggressive players who will have to adapt to the strict rules of the NFL.
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at one of the many YouTube videos floating around the Ravens fan base as they become familiar with Elam. I’ll show that in just some of his highlight plays, he’ll go from being cheered on Saturdays to being flagged on Sundays – unless he adapts.
In the NFL (as much as I hate it), these would be called:
0:25 – Helmet to Helmet
0:51 – Helmet to Helmet, Defenseless Receiver (likely heavy fine)
2:57 – Pass Interference (Face-guarding)
Luckily for the Ravens, Elam has proven himself against some of the best competition collegiate football has to offer. Adapting to the NFL is difficult for most rookies, but at least Elam doesn’t have as much to overcome as some smaller school draft prospects after playing in the SEC.