Dannell Ellerbe ready for former team

DAVIE, Fla. -- If you trust the words of Miami Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, Sunday’s matchup against his former team -- the Baltimore Ravens -- is just another game.

But deep down there has to be a little extra within Ellerbe this week. He gets to play against his former team for the first time since signing a $35 million contract with Miami in free agency.

Ellerbe was a key cog in Baltimore’s Super Bowl run last season. He took over the front seven on defense when future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis was injured late in the season. Ellerbe’s performance earned him plenty of interest in free agency. Most pundits expected Baltimore to make a strong pitch to keep Ellerbe, but he says that wasn’t the case.

“I guess you can say they were looking to retain me, but it [the offer] was at the bottom of the barrel,” Ellerbe said. “I know it’s a business, and I knew that from the first day I walked in and Ray Lewis told me about it. So I wasn’t surprised.

“I was surprised a little bit, but I wasn’t really surprised. They have to do what’s best for their organization.”

Ellerbe’s first four games in Miami have been a mixture of good and bad. He leads the Dolphins in tackles with 38, which is tied for third in the NFL. But Ellerbe and the linebackers also are struggling in pass coverage and giving up chunk yards over the middle.

Tight ends, in particular, have given Miami’s linebackers the most trouble. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron both recorded more than 100 yards receiving against Miami.

Ellerbe is working in a new scheme with new teammates, and needs time to make all the necessary adjustments.

“He’s a fine player, I think he’s going to get better and better as we keep going through the year,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “He’s playing in a spot where he played some in college, but he hasn’t had the NFL experience in there, taking charge of everything, making all the calls and doing that. ... A little bit of that is still a part of the process with him.”

This is a big game for Miami, which can improve to 4-1 with a win heading into the bye week. The Ravens are 2-2 and coming off a bad loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Ellerbe has more knowledge of Baltimore’s personnel than anyone in Miami’s locker room. He’s also had at least 10 tackles in two straight games this season. It’s important for Ellerbe to have another good performance Sunday against the Ravens.

“I know I can play a whole lot better,” Ellerbe said. “It’s still a learning process. I just got into this type of defense. It’s football at the end of the day. But coming from Ray running the show and me helping him out, now it’s me running the show and setting everything, I’m still getting used to that.

“I know I’m only going to get better. When it starts to become second nature without any thinking, it’s really going to be an awesome time to see me play.”