Starting with an aside: I always forgive. As far as the forgetting part goes, let’s just say that I forget…to forget. With that, we cordially invite Baltimore Ravens second-year safety Matt Elam to stand under our Umbrellas of Second Chances. For now--it's too early in his career to call him a bust, and there is not enough indisputable evidence that he is an expendable ballplayer.
Elam recently stated the obvious to reporters while packing up his bags in the locker room.
"I just want to get better and improve my game," Elam said. "That’s really all I can say."
For the record, the safety who decided to frustrate us all season-long was not rookie Terrence Brooks. No, it was the erratic Elam, the sophomore who stormed into the season with confidence clearer than John Madden’s play-by-play analysis—but instead maddened fans and onlookers with teeming fluster.
The Ravens backend’s free roamer registered zero interceptions in 2014, one less than he hawked down as a rookie. He forced a what-should’ve-been a game-changing fumble—the first of his career—in Week 5’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The sophomore started the first nine games, but didn’t show enough progress, and promise, to unscrew the training wheels off as the playoff-clinching season unraveled.
Rotated with the rest of the role players in Dean Pees’ whirlpool, Elam’s production declined with safeties Will Hill and Darian Stewart seeing more snaps. (We’d call it a "whirlool" if it weren’t for Pees.)
Bad joke. Getting back to the point; everything changes for Elam this offseason. He will gain the league’s respect by refining his tackling fundamentals and improving his pre-snap reads. Wrapping up has been a problem for the 23-year-old. According to Pro Football Focus, Elam missed 10 tackles, and two of them came during the divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots—which we know that one of those attempts were broken by Danny Amendola before the wideout scampered 11 yards (after the hit), for a touchdown. The last time I checked, bleeding black-and-purple meant believing in the power of redemption. Remember what Ray Lewis said after kicker Billy Cundiff whiffed the 32-yard field goal to tie the 2011 Playoff game against ... the Patriots? That’s right, no need to incriminate. Winning… is a team effort.
"Not one play won or lost this game," Ray Lewis said. "There's no 'Oh, Billy's the fault. Billy missed the (kick).' There's no freaking 'Billy missed the kick.' It happened. Move on."
If he were still here, the former future Hall of Famer would appreciate us supporting the rising third-year’s development. Coach Harbaugh will bolster the team these next few months by mandating competition on the defensive side of the ball. Despite the injuries in the Ravens secondary, the chemistry generated by the linebacking corps was predominately the reason why the team punched a postseason ticket. Two of the league's sack masters--Terrell Suggs (9th with 12) and Elvis Dumervil (3rd, 17)--pushed the defensive unit to emerge as the NFL's second-most frightening pass rushing forces with 49 total sacks (tied with Philadelphia).
Elam’s journey to stardom started in the locker room after promising the reporters that he will improve.
A musician once emphatically told me, "If you say ‘I will,’ you are already halfway there." Then I Googled his rendition—one hell of an expression by the way—to discover that the phrase was already coined by our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt: "Believe you can and you’re halfway there."
For what Elam's vow is worth, he's halfway there.