It was a devastating day when Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis tore his triceps during the Ravens/Cowboys game in October.  “Next man up” Dannell Ellerbe is living up to the hype and doing a bang up job in the middle linebacker position.

This is Ellerbe’s fourth season with the Ravens. He was undrafted out of Georgia and he is in the last season of his rookie contract. He is uncertain about his future with the team; but made the commitment to step it up and shine:

“I just decided that this is my contract year, this is the year I really need to just step it up, show improvement,” Ellerbe said. “I just said that I would take a couple extra minutes, or an hour or two, and just study more, and just study certain things that will help me in my game, and it’s panning out for me.”

Ravens coaches say the biggest difference in him this season is “the commitment the fourth-year linebacker has made to understanding the mental side of the game”.

“From a professionalism standpoint, he has just made tremendous growth,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He has really become a serious student of the game. He works really hard at it.”

His production on the field has not gone unnoticed. This season he leads the Ravens with 3.5 sacks and is third in tackles with 52. He is close to breaking his career high of 55 tackles.

Ellerbe’s game prep goes above and beyond what is expected of him. Ellerbe spends countless hours on film study and working outside of team hours.

He credits his success to his ability to stay healthy this season. Last season he was limited to nine games with a nagging hamstring injury. He also filled in for Lewis when he missed several games due to injury.

Ellerbe has played in every defensive snap since Lewis went out in October. Last Sunday he led the Ravens in tackles against the Browns and was the only Raven to record a sack against Browns’ quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Ellerbe claims that he isn’t trying to fill Lewis’ shoes, instead he is trying to be his own person and he is keeping his eyes on the prize of a big payday when his contract expires at the end of this season.

“It’s in the back of my mind. But I don’t go out there and think, ‘Oh this is my contract year, I got to do this, I got to do that,’” Ellerbe said. “I just go out there and play and give it my all and whatever happens, happens.

Ellerbe learned a lot from Lewis and it’s good to see him practicing what Lewis preached. I wish him the best and I hope his success continues the rest of the season.

By MelissaRubin

Self-proclaimed sports junkie. Lifelong Baltimore sports fan residing in DC. Baltimore Ravens are my favorite team, I'm a die-hard fan and in constant need of a football fix. Baltimore Orioles and Washington Capitals fan too. Follow her on Twitter @egoddess1