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Even though Dannell Ellerbe seemed to have taken over a starting position last year, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone.
Last week, Ellerbe spent part of Tuesday’s practice – which was open to the media – with the second team, allowing Tavares Gooden to get time with the 1′s.
It was Gooden who went down midway through the 2009 campaign with a groin injury, opening the door for Ellerbe’s promotion.
Now, it seems the duo is competing for that top spot again, as is a host of other candidates.
“I wouldn’t characterize any of those young guys as starters yet. I think the competition is there,” said Head Coach John Harbaugh. “Jameel McClain’s in the mix, Tavares Gooden’s in the mix. Hey, Brendon Ayanbadejo, when he gets back, you never know. So, all those guys are trying to line up next to Ray [Lewis], and they’re getting tons of reps right now.”
McClain, a former defensive end at Syracuse, has shown promise as a versatile pass-rusher and special teamer. Ayanbadejo, the three-time Pro Bowl special teamer, is similar, a dynamic playmaker who was finding his niche in the Ravens’ pass packages before he hurt his quadriceps midway through the 2009 campaign.
But Ellerbe acquitted himself well during his rookie season, giving him the inside track as a football-seeking missile with a penchant for thumping.
Stepping in next to Lewis, Ellerbe totaled 41 tackles. Most importantly, he was a key player in the Ravens’ playoffs-clinching win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 17, grabbing an interception and recovering a fumble.
For his part, Ellerbe isn’t giving up his starting role without a fight.
“I want to be that guy,” Ellerbe said. “I want it set in stone to be the starter. I’ve been working hard to get there, and now I just need to show my coaches that I can take the job.”
Harbaugh approved of Ellerbe’s commitment this offseason.
“Dannell has done very well,” Coach Harbaugh said. “I think he’s had a really good offseason lifting, conditioning, knowing the defense. But, I would put the other guys in that same category.”