“Yeah, it’s coming,” Elam said. “Patience, I got to let it come to me. When you don’t, that’s when you make mistakes.”
In his first NFL start last week against the Cleveland Browns, Elam slipped in zone coverage and surrendered a 53-yard completion to tight end Jordan Cameron. He was also flagged for interference on a pass intended for Davone Bess.
It won’t get easier Sunday. The Texans’ tight end tandem of Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham has combined for five touchdowns on 14 receptions.
“If I get in that situation again, I’ll be more comfortable,” said Elam, who made five tackles against the Browns. “I don’t make a lot of mistakes because of the way I study.”
Elam represents the last line of defense for the Ravens. By definition and scheme, his first responsibility is to guard against long passes. He’s absorbing the nuances of an intricate defense.
“The biggest challenge he faces is learning the system, because this isn’t a vanilla system where we play two coverages and two fronts,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We do a lot of pressures, lot of different coverages — much more than most teams and certainly a lot more than in college.
“His physical attributes, that’s why we drafted him. The guy can run, he can hit, and he’s a smart football player. I’ve been very happy with what I’ve seen so far.”
Elam’s naturally inquisitive personality has impressed teammates.
“He listens, takes great notes and asks anybody if he needs to know something,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “He’s not going to be shy — that’s the thing we like about him. He’s doing a great job. We see a lot of improvement from when he first got here. He plays like a Raven. He’s a physical, tough guy who runs to the ball. He’s never the last man there, and he always wants to learn.”
Elam had 176 career tackles, five sacks and six interceptions competing in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference.
Now, the work gets tougher, especially Sunday when he’ll be charged with helping defend Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has 20 receptions for 222 yards this season.
“It’s very exciting and a challenge to go against one of the best receivers in the league,” Elam said. “I get to go out and show off my skill set and what I do in practice every day. I can’t wait.”
— Baltimore Sun