DeShon Elliott is, in a lot of ways, like his fellow safety Chuck Clark.
Both were sixth-round picks (Clark was the 186th pick in 2017, Elliott 190th in 2018) of the Ravens. Both had to sit on the bench for the first few years of their careers, as more established players started ahead of them. And both entered the starting lineup at a time with less-than-ideal circumstances.
Clark became a starter last season after former Raven, Tony Jefferson, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 against the Steelers. Now Elliott enters the starting lineup after the fallout of the Earl Thomas incident last Friday, which caused his release on Sunday.
The duo now figures to be the starting safety pair for the Ravens. It was a long time coming for both of them.
“See, I wasn’t used to sitting behind anybody,” Elliott said. “So, he (Clark) was already here and was experiencing it, and I was asking him, ‘How does it work?’ I kind of just learned how to grow from him. And then, sitting back and watching his success, watching how hard he worked, and just being able to see the path that he’s about to start, I just want to be a part of that. And honestly, Chuck is my dog. I ride for Chuck. Win or lose, I’ll always ride for Chuck.”
Elliott has had, however, a more turbulent start to his career than Clark did. Through two seasons in the NFL, he’s played just six games due to injury and ended both of his years as a Raven on injured reserve.
The expectation for Elliott isn’t mitigated by the loss of Thomas, a future Hall-of-Fame safety.
Coach John Harbaugh said it was Elliott’s time on Sunday when asked about Thomas’ replacement, as all indications point to Elliott being perhaps another late-round safety to become a starter for the Ravens.
“I love the game of football,” Elliott said. “Whether they pay me or not, I’ll play this game. And my health has been the only question I have from everybody. I’m not worried about my health, because I’m going to be healthy; I’m going to be at 100%. I’m going to do what I have to do to be productive for this team. Every game, every day, I’m going to work my ass off — excuse my language — but I’m going to work my butt off.”
Elliott’s work ethic, which he says partly came from Clark, can’t be questioned. Neither can his tendency to speak his mind on the field.
Frequently, Elliott is one of the loudest members on the field, and not just on the defensive side of the ball. He’s got a swagger about him that’s unmistakable, one that makes his head coach smile — from time to time.
“He likes to talk,” Harbaugh said with a smile. “It’s a good thing, most of the time, and sometimes, you have to tell him, ‘OK. I’ve heard enough.’ But it’s always positive. This guy is (an) energetic, ‘All-ball’ kind of a guy. A great communicator on the field, and also a great communicator off the field, too. It’s just who he is, and I’m real pleased with that part of him.”
A former University of Texas standout, Elliott credits his preparation with his confidence, which translates to his vocal nature on the field.
I came here being able to be around guys who work hard,” he said. “And establishing that leadership that I’ve been following from Chuck, the leadership that my coaches bring, and also just my teammates. All my teammates — they play hard. So, when they play hard, makes me want to be more in my book. And if I’m in my book, I can be more confident in myself. So, that’s pretty much where I get it from.”
That style hasn’t gone unnoticed — there’s no way it couldn’t — by his teammates on the field with him.
“As a ‘DB’ — the natural nature — you’ve got to have that confidence and that swagger on the field, and he has a lot of it,” Clark said. “We love it as a defense, and that’s what he brings to us. When we’re out there…If he’s going to make a play, you’re definitely going to hear it from him. Or if somebody else makes a play on our defense, you’re going to hear from him about it. We love that, and that he brings that.”
Elliott added he’s out to prove his confidence isn’t over-the-top, something he’ll have to wait until Sept. 13 to prove against the Browns. That will be the beginning of Clark's first full year as a starter, for the team he had doubts about in terms of whether the fit was best for him or not. It will also be the first game he'll play since signing his three-year, $16 million extension.
By then, Elliott and Clark figure to be the team’s top two safeties on the roster. And for the characteristics that make them similar, there’s plenty that makes them different.
Clark, one of the most respected players in the locker room, carries himself with a quiet confidence. Elliott lets his confidence shine. Clark, once he joined the starting lineup last year, seemingly never left the field. Elliott has had trouble staying on the field through the first two years of his career.
But they’ve come to understand each other and learn each other’s games through the waiting period. And they’ve got just a few more weeks before they’re able to show what they’ve wanted to all along.
After a few years of waiting for each of them, three weeks seems like nothing at all.
“When ‘TJ’ went down last year, then I went down last year, Chuck stepped up,” Elliott said. “He did the things he needed to do to be a great player and to be consistent, and that’s how it is. For me and him to both be able to finally be on the big stage together, we’re going to make some noise out there. I trust him; he trusts me. We love each other, so I know we’re going to play for each other, and we’re (not going to) let each other down.”