For the second time in two months, the Ravens stressed the importance for Elam to become a better football player in 2015.
General manager Ozzie Newsome bluntly said this at the end of February at the “State of the Ravens” news conference, and coach John Harbaugh reiterated it at the NFL owners meetings earlier this week.
Last season, Elam lost his starting job and his confidence, or it might have been the other way around. The lowlights included failing to wrap up ball carriers and getting beat deep on pass plays.
Elam was tied for 12th among all NFL defensive backs with 16 missed tackles, even though he played only half the snaps as many of the qualifying players, according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed an average of 16.3 yards on 17 catches, which ranked ninth-worst among safeties.
Pro Football Focus rated Elam the ninth-worst safety in the league in 2014.
“He’s got to become a good player,” coach John Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings earlier this week. “That’s his burden to bear, along with us as coaches to do everything we can to help him get there. We’re going to do our best to make that happen.”
As a rookie in 2013, Elam had his problems while starting 15 games. The biggest criticism was the lack of impact plays (one interception, three passes broken up and no forced fumbles). But he wasn't considered a major liability like he became last season.
In Week 3, Elam not only allowed Taylor Gabriel to get behind him for a big pass play but he forgot to touch down the Browns receiver after he fell to the ground. In Week 8, he missed five tackles in a loss at Cincinnati, which included him whiffing on wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on a 48-yard catch. In the playoff loss at New England, he missed a tackle on wide receiver Danny Amendola, who ran past him along the sideline for a touchdown.
“I just want to get better and improve my game,” Elam said at the end of the season. “That’s really all I can say.”
The Ravens aren't used to disappointing first-round picks, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With the exception of Elam, the other nine defensive players taken by the Ravens in the first round -- Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Duane Starks, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Jimmy Smith and C.J. Mosley -- have either reached the Pro Bowl or played a key role in helping the franchise win a Super Bowl.
The Ravens' lack of confidence in Elam showed this offseason, when they used the little cap room they had on signing Kendrick Lewis to start alongside Will Hill at safety. But the Ravens will give Elam a chance to make an impact this season.
"Matt Elam has to be a better football player for us next year," Newsome said last month. "He has to be."