OWINGS MILLS — Dannell Ellerbe’s heart was racing, and he could hardly stand still as he lined up in his stance before his first regular-season snap as an NFL linebacker.
And the Baltimore Ravens’ undrafted rookie couldn’t resist going for the big shot in the open field on New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney with his overpursuit and exuberance causing him to whiff on a tackle attempt.
Ellerbe could hardly believe he was lined up at inside linebacker next to All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis against the Patriots after being passed over in the draft and beating the odds to make the team after spraining his medial collateral ligament during training camp.
"It was crazy, I was just running around," Ellerbe said. "Ray Lewis told me, ‘Just slow down, be calm and let the game come to you.’ It was great advice from Ray, and he was the biggest reason why I chose to come to Baltimore."
After that play, though, Ellerbe settled down and recorded six tackles in his NFL debut.
He wound up stopping elusive wide receiver Wes Welker’s forward progress on a few occasions, an extremely difficult task.
"The first opportunity he had to make a tackle, I think he got too excited," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He played too fast, and he got in there and overshot a veteran back, got juked a little bit.
“After that, he made every tackle and he tackled one of the toughest guys to tackle in football, Wes Welker, a couple of times. So, he played well, but it’s just a start. There are plenty of things and a long way for him to go.”
From Ellerbe’s standpoint, it was a major step forward in his development.
He was relieved to find out that his downhill, hard-hitting approach to practice and how he performed in the Southeastern Conference translated on an NFL level.
“I thought it would be a whole lot harder,” he said. “The game speed wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I felt like I could do this for a long time.
“I felt good out there. I felt like I belonged and I felt like I had something to prove. The coaches told me this was a good one to start and now I have to build on it.”
With the exception of the flubbed tackle attempt on Maroney, which allowed him to gain a first down, Ellerbe looked comfortable out there. Especially in run support.
There was some rust to shed since Ellerbe was sidelined for the majority of the preseason.
“It really wasn’t too much for me,” Ellerbe said. “My wind was a lot better in the game than I thought it would be, but our practices are a lot harder than the games.”
The timing of Ellerbe emerging as a contributor was excellent considering inside linebacker Tavares Gooden was sidelined with a concussion. Plus, special-teams ace and nickel linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is out for the season with a torn quadriceps tendon.
And Ellerbe is even more convinced than ever that he made the right decision to sign with the Ravens over competing offers in April.
“Yeah, I wanted to come to a good defense and play on the best defense in the league,” he said.
“As an undrafted free agent, I just want to show what I can do and prove I belong here every time I’m on the field.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.