Defensive coordinator Dean Pees opening statement: “I will kind of reiterate what I think [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and [general manager and executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] have already said about Matt [Elam] was we are extremely pleased to have this guy be a Baltimore Raven. It’s been a long process and evaluation with the scouts and with [assistant manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [director of college scouting] Joe [Hortiz] and everybody involved. A lot of guys you look at, and this was a guy we targeted a long time ago here. To have it kind of come to fruition yesterday was kind of neat sitting in the room watching everything fall into place. [I was] kind of crossing my fingers – on a lot of things you do when it gets down to that pick. The fact that Matt’s name was there … I just couldn’t be more excited. I think he adds a dimension to our defense. As you all know, it’s no secret with Ed [Reed] leaving we lost a very, very great Hall of Fame player. We need somebody to come in and fight for that spot. Matt knows it’s not going to be given to him. He has to earn it, but this is a guy who we have the utmost faith in coming in and giving us things that we look for in a football player. The guy can run. The guy can cover, and most of all, he can hit. What I like most about him watching him on film is there is a dying art in college football in the secondary, and it’s called tackling. (laughter) This guy has that heart. We are very, very excited to have this guy.”
S Matt Elam opening statement: “[This is] a very exciting moment. It’s so exciting. It’s hard to explain. [It is exciting] having an opportunity to play for the World Champions and great coaches and great players. Having an opportunity to come in and do the great things that future Hall of Famer Ed Reed did … [I’m looking forward to] just coming in and working and continuing to improve and get better and just being a great Raven and win championshipsthat Ravens are used to do.”
We were watching you watch yourself [on video] just now. Today is about your future, we know that. But, what were you thinking of when you were watching yourself?
(ELAM) “It melts my heart just to watch what I did in college and have an opportunity to play at the next level – an opportunity a lot of people don’t have, an opportunity a lot of people didn’t take advantage of. It’s an honor. Like I said, it melted my heart because of knowing what I came from and everything I overcame and just taking it positively instead of making it a negative and turning into a positive motivation – making it who I am today.”
You just mentioned some of the stuff you overcame. How much of that sort of shape, and how much did you use football as a release to kind of deal with some of the struggles there?
(ELAM) “I think football was my relief, being able to use the energy and be able to use it the right way instead of negatively. Being able to go out on the field and using that energy, it gave me an edge. And my family … It made me realize how important family was – losing siblings. That’s why I go out and do it every day for my family, because they always have my back. They have supported me since growing up, and knowing I was young and losing [siblings], they were always there for me and showed support. I go out every day and work for them and try to put a smile on their face.”
What was it like growing up in that neighborhood? How tough was it? How difficult was it to overcome and avoid holes other people have grown through?
(ELAM) “It was very tough. Like I said, I had a strong support system with my family. I had a big brother to look up to. He showed me the ropes. He showed me how to overcome things. Like I said, I can’t explain how excited I am. It’s a lot, a lot, a lot of kids my age that have been through the same thing that lost siblings and took it negatively and didn’t use it as motivation – [didn’t] make it positive. [I] used it as positive energy and things like that. I feel like it helped me – growing through that thing helped me. It helped me mature. It helped me grow, and it just helped me realize how important family was and doing it for the family.”
How close were you to going down a different path with your life – the path a lot of guys from your area did go down? What really directed you? Was it your mother, transferring schools? What directed you?
(ELAM) “It was just me knowing, understanding that I’m tired of the frowns and the tears and the funerals and things like that. I was like, ‘I’m going to turn this around. I’m going to do this the right way. I’m going to turn the frowns into smiles. I’m going to make sure my family is happy. I’m going to make sure the happiness overcomes all the tragedy and adversity.’ Like I said, that’s why I go out to work every day to put a smile on my family’s face and make them happy and make them smile instead of frown and having funerals and tears – just tears of joy. That’s all I think about – giving them tears of joy.”
What was the process like last night just watching, waiting? You see two safeties go ahead of you …
(ELAM) “They gave me a chip on my shoulder, seeing those two safeties go ahead of me. But then again, I’m happy they went ahead of me, because I got an opportunity to play for the World Champs. Like I said, it was a very nerve-wracking experience. I was ready to go. The whole process I wanted to know where I was going. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to play again. I felt jobless. I wasn’t going to school. I didn’t have a job, so I was like, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready.’ I feel it’s a very good process, a learning experiencing. I learned a lot of things. I’m looking forward to this.”
Where you comfortable watching it from your own confines opposed to being in New York?
(ELAM) “The New York opportunity was a big opportunity not a lot of people have. Like I said, I’m a very family-oriented guy. It was all about family. I felt good just being with the family and getting a phone call with the family right there.”
What were your meetings like with the Ravens before the draft, and were they a team you thought might pick you?
(ELAM) “I was hearing a lot of good things from the Ravens, and I knew the family ties, so I knew that had something to do with it and things like that, the family relationships. The Combine meeting with the Ravens, that went well, too. I didn’t think it would be the Ravens, but I had an idea because of the family ties and with Ed [Reed] leaving and things like that. So, it wasn’t something that I knew, but I had an idea.”
Family ties aside, as a hard-hitting football player, do the teams with really hard-hitting defensive reputations – like the Ravens and the Steelers – become your favorite teams, or do you take special notice as a young player of those teams?
(ELAM) “I take a lot of notice just seeing the Super Bowl last year with [Bernard] Pollard and Ray Lewis and Reed just hitting the people and just the aggressive defense and the hard defense that the Ravens always have. It’s something that I looked up to because that’s my style of play, playing hard and playing smash-mouth football. I’ve always been fan of that tough Ravens defense.”
Dean, do you see Matt competing with James Ihedigbo at strong safety and maybe he could be interchangeable later on, or do you want to cross-train him at free and strong safety?
(PEES) “We’ve already talked about it. I got him upstairs an hour ago as soon as he got in. Really, all those guys are interchangeable. Nobody has specific, ‘You’re a strong safety, you’re a free safety, you’re this.’ You’re a safety, so you need to know both. He needs to know nickel, he needs to know a lot of things on defense to see where he ends up fitting, just as they all do. They all are cross-trained. Nobody is really kind of, ‘OK, you’re in competition just as a strong safety, and Michael Huff, you’re just a free safety.’ They are all safeties. Then they all need to find out where they fit and where their role is and what they are best suited for, along with nickel. You’ve got ‘Webby’ [Lardarius Webb], you’ve got Corey [Graham], you’ve got Asa [Jackson], you’ve got Matt. You have a bunch of guys. That’s why when you do all that, you always have competition at those spots. Nobody is just specifically geared in or pigeonholed into one spot, they are pigeonholed into the whole secondary, and then you find out who can play and where they fit and how they fit in each call, each defense. A guy could be a nickel on one play and a safety on the next play if that’s the best place to put him in that situation. We talked already upstairs about knowing a lot of different spots, and that’s one of the things that I like about him. I know his background, I know the kind of defense that he comes from in college that’s not just a vanilla defense that plays one coverage. They play a lot of things. [University of Florida head coach] Will Muschamp, I know really, really well. I know this guy knows a lot of football, so there’s another additive, another thing about him that we thought was a very big positive.”
Can you talk about your ability to turn and run with the tight ends in this division? You have Tyler Eifert coming in, Heath Miller, Jermaine Gresham, and it seems to be one of your strengths, being able to cover as well as playing in the box?
(ELAM) “I am highly confident. Like this offseason, I have been training as a corner. I got that advice from my brother [Abram]. He told me how important that is. It’s transitioning, guarding the faster, bigger guys. So like I said, I am going to rely on my technique, I am going to keep on improving and keep on improving working as a corner, and I am highly confident in what I can do in that situation.”
Coach, before the draft, a bit was made about Matt’s height. Why does he make that irrelevant?
(PEES) “I don’t think [height] is irrelevant. If he is 5-2, that’d be relevant. (laughter) So, I don’t think height is irrelevant. I just think his height is irrelevant. How tall is Troy Polamalu? (Reporter: “About 5-11.”) Nah, 5-11 on a good day. (laughter) The thing of it is there are tall guys that play short, short guys that play tall. There are slow guys that play fast and fast guys that play slow. So to me, it has nothing to do with that. This guy plays in a great conference, a great conference. So, he is used to playing against great competition. That’s another additive, to me. Watching the film, it wasn’t hard to put on the film and find a good football team that he is playing against – most of them were. The fact is he has seen that kind of competition. Every football player has some weakness. They have strengths; they have weaknesses. What they have to do is figure out how to overcome their weaknesses and use their strengths then to overcome that weakness and play to their ability. There was a play on his highlights – it was down in the end zone – somebody threw a fade ball up there and the guy went up. Did he go up and high-point it? No, but he went up and got the ball out. That’s what you have to do. So to me, watching him play against a lot of big guys, we studied that. We studied that on every player that we looked at, so it’s not a concern.”
When it comes to strengths and weaknesses, you had a reputation in college as being a heavy hitter. Knowing now how much the NFL tries to protect players, do you have to refine your game at all or do anything different?
(ELAM) “I feel like I won’t let up a bit. I’ll just rely on my technique. Like I said, I’ll improve every day in practice, and I feel like it won’t be a problem. I’ll rely on my technique. It won’t slow me down a bit.”
As you went through the draft process, was there anything you read or heard that motivated you and gave you an extra chip on your shoulder?
(ELAM) “I wasn’t into the media thing. I was never into that because there was too much going on for me. There were a lot of different projections and opinions and things like that, so I tried to stay away from all that. I just went out and worked, knowing that coming into the next level, you have to continue to improve, and you have to be consistent. So, I kept on getting better every day. Like I said, I tried to just keep my eyes out of the opinions and the predictions, just so I could stay focused and know what I have ahead.”
Matt, when you come to a team that let two veteran safeties go – let two starters go – do you come in and say, “I expect to start?”
(ELAM) “I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t want anything given. I feel like if it’s given, I haven’t ... Growing up, I had to work through things. My parents and my brother always made me work at it – made me earn things. Like I said, I don’t want anything given, because if it’s given, it’s not earned. With two great safeties leaving, I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me to come in and keep on improving and do the great things that they did and win championships and win games.”
Have you decided on what number you want to wear?
(ELAM) “Me and coach were just deciding that earlier. Maybe, it might have to be 31 – yeah I like that number – since 22 [Jimmy Smith] is taken.”
Matt, just to backtrack to some of the stuff that you’ve overcome, just considering that and looking at some of the adversity that you’ve dealt with, how gratifying does that make it where you are now? And is there any moment that sticks out that was particularly special during the last couple of days, aside from just being drafted, but anything that sticks out that was particularly special?
(ELAM) “Just seeing my mom smile and the excitement of my mom and my family – just that itself. Just seeing how happy and excited they were. They seemed more excited than I was, so that gave me a smile on my face and melted my heart. I’m very family oriented, and I just love to see my mom smile and see her happy. That was one of the most important things.”
Dean, can you talk about the familiarity with the family and how much that relationship that you have with Abe kind of makes you more comfortable with Matt?
(PEES) “The fact that I know Abe and actually recruited Abe, and he played for me, certainly made it easy, as far as me talking to him, but it really had absolutely no bearing, whatsoever, on our selection. The selection was really made by a culmination of a lot of hard work of the scouting department and Eric [DeCosta] and Joe [Hortiz] and Ozzie [Newsome] and coaches, too, [secondary coach] T.A. [Teryl Austin], especially. During the evaluation process, all that stuff’s out the window. The only thing that was nice was when I got the chance to talk to him on the phone, I talked to his mom, because I know his mom. So, when he walked in today, and I saw him, I already know him, and I know his brother and I know his mom. That stuff makes it nice, but it really has no bearing on the draft selection itself.”
Matt, just out of curiosity, I heard Jon Bostic, somebody you were extremely close with at Florida, obviously there’s a need here for inside linebacker … How much have you started that push?
(ELAM) “I haven’t started yet, but I’ve been thinking about it. I want to get that in coach’s ear. I would love to play with [Jon] Bostic again; that would be great. That would be good.”
Did any of the players come in to meet you or reach out to you after …
(ELAM) “I met a couple players that I saw walking through – I met a couple players. I’m excited about meeting a little more.”
Anyone give you any advice?
(ELAM) “No, not yet. I really haven’t talked ... I mean, I talked to Jacoby Jones a couple weeks ago. We were on NFL Live. We had an interview with Deion Sanders – me and him. He gave me a little advice, how to cover him. He gave me a little advice, told me if I put my hands out and try to jam him, he’ll throw my hands down and get on top of me, and things like that. We were just joking around a little bit. It was fun.”
Dean, at the start of the offseason and you lose your two starting safeties, could you expect a better scenario than what ends up happening in that you sign Michael Huff and you draft a safety in the first round here?
(PEES) “No. Obviously, when you lose a couple guys, then you’re going to go through free agency, you don’t really know who’s out there, who’s not going to be out there, how that’s all going to work. Then it comes down to, really, the draft, and all I can tell you is we couldn’t be happier with the selection that we had. I was really sitting there hoping that somebody didn’t jump up or somebody didn’t jump in and take this guy. I just kept looking at his name up there on the board hoping, ‘Just hang on.’ It’s a great scenario for all of us.”
Matt, we saw online you actually had a draft party scheduled for tonight. Was it just something where maybe you didn’t give yourself enough credit that you’d be in the first round or just a scheduling conflict?
(ELAM) “No, I really wasn’t planning on having a draft party. It was actually Jon Bostic’s draft party. I just joined on with it. I really wasn’t into the draft party thing. I really wasn’t planning on it. My brother was on me about [if] I want to throw one. I was like ‘No, I’ll just have the family to the house.’ I just joined with Jon Bostic, because he asked me. It really wasn’t anything I really wanted.”