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Biggest key to Matt Elam turning around his Ravens career

A different Matt Elam returned to the Baltimore Ravens facility this offseason. At least, a different one physically.

Elam, a disappointing first-round pick from 2013, lost eight pounds of fat and dropped his body fat down to 6 percent, according to coach John Harbaugh.

"Matt's come back in tremendous shape," Harbaugh said in a conference call with season-ticket holders.

This is a good sign that Elam wants to improve. But the key to Elam turning around his career isn't about losing anything. It's about what he needs to regain.

When watching Elam struggle on the field, what stood out the most was a lack of confidence. He came to the Ravens with a reputation of being an aggressive, in-the-box safety. In his two seasons with the Ravens, Elam has not attacked the ball. He's been more reactive. Elam played like he was in an emotional funk, and he couldn't shake it as the bad plays began to snowball on him.

Elam missed a whopping 18 tackles in the regular season and missed another two key ones in the divisional playoff loss at New England, according to Pro Football Focus. The analytical website also rated him as the ninth-worst safety last year along with D.J. Swearinger, who was recently cut by the Houston Texans.

The Ravens took Elam out of the starting lineup by midseason and then made safety Kendrick Lewis their first unrestricted free-agent signing from another team this offseason.

“I think it’s readily known that we have not been satisfied with the way he’s played thus far,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “And I don’t think Matt has been satisfied with the way he’s played thus far.”

Elam was penciled in as a starter in his first two seasons with the Ravens. Now, he's going to have to earn a spot. Lewis and Will Hill are expected to be the starters at safety, unless Elam forces the Ravens to change those plans.

“Just seeing him walk around the building, he’s carrying himself a little bit different, he’s carrying himself a little more confident," Newsome said. "I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do out on the field. We’ll let that determine his fate.”

Elam is trying to avoid the distinction of being the Ravens' biggest defensive bust. The Ravens drafted eight defensive players in the first round before Elam, and every one of them established themselves as quality starters by the end of their third season. Six of them went to multiple Pro Bowls.

"We still have high hopes for Matt Elam," Harbaugh said.