That didn't take long. The Ravens are putting top draft pick Matt Elam on the hot seat early at free safety.
Veteran free safety Michael Huff had such a bad outing in game 1 against the Broncos that the Ravens moved Matt Elam into his spot for the Browns game— and by all accounts, the kid did pretty well.
Listening to Jonathan Ogden on WBAL-AM Radio Monday night when asked by Brett Hollander if it is possible for a veteran safety to lose his starting job just because of one bad game:
Ogden: "Yes, oh yes… yes it is…"
Ryan Mink at Ravens.com then came out with a nice piece on Tuesday on Elam's quick rise up the depth chart. It basically was a recap of a press conference and interview with John Harbaugh which I heard the night before. What makes it interesting is the perspective Harbaugh gives on the evolution of a rookie safety in the NFL.
Elam didn’t make any sparkling plays in Sunday's game versus Cleveland, but it was partially because he used a somewhat safe approach in his first game as a starter. He finished with five tackles.
“He did what a young safety probably should do. He played to keep everything in front of him,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
“There were some things that he probably could have played a little bit tighter at times. And younger guys probably would have made the mistake of playing it too tight sometimes. He played with a lot of maturity in that way. It was good to see. He played well.”
Elam replaced eight-year veteran Michael Huff at free safety after Huff struggled with his tackling and coverage in the Week 1 game in Denver. After Sunday’s 14-6 win, Harbaugh said Elam got the start because he’s been practicing well. Huff is known for his tackling….which was just not there for him in the Denver game.
While being a strong tackler up the middle, including against the run game, is an important part of being a safety, Elam's steeper learning curve is in coverage.
Harbaugh said Elam’s patience will continue to be challenged by play-action plays and double moves as opponents test the rookie.
"I think it's a discipline-oriented-type of position, and that's a little tougher for a younger guy who hasn't seen everything," Harbaugh said. "He's going to see a lot of challenging looks."
The only big play the deep secondary allowed was a 53-yard reception by tight end James Cameron on the Browns’ first offensive play of the game. Cameron ran free in a three-deep zone coverage and a scrambling Brandon Weeden found him. Elam said the issue was a lack of communication.
Elam was flagged for a 21-yard pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter when, according to referees, he “hooked” receiver Davone Bess.
“I feel like I did well, did my job,” Elam said. “I wanted to do extra, make plays and things like that. But I feel like I did my job and communicated like they wanted me to.”
Huff, who signed a three-year contract with the Ravens this offseason, was limited to just six defensive snaps, primarily in coverage. He played well in his limited defensive time, and was also used on special teams.
Harbaugh said the Ravens will use a three-safety rotation between James Ihedigbo, Elam and Huff. Elam and Huff can also both play nickel cornerback, giving Baltimore extra flexibility with its secondary.
So keep an eye on #26 against the Texans. He is about to be served a full plate by a Houston team whose run game and passing attack will likely be ranked near the top by season's end.