It was nearly a year ago that one of the highest points of Dannell Ellerbe's NFL career quickly turned into one of the lowest.
In the Ravens' final preseason game of the 2010 season, Ellerbe, then a second-year linebacker, intercepted a pass against the Rams and returned it 57 yards for his first NFL touchdown. Just before reaching the end zone, Ellerbe stopped and extended the ball over the goal line, taunting the Rams in the process.
Not a smart move, kid. Head coach John Harbaugh sprinted down the sideline, grabbed Ellerbe by the jersey, and gave him a fierce lecture that was caught on television.
That was one of a few moments last year that led to Ellerbe carving out a spot in Harbaugh's doghouse, turning what looked like a promising sophomore professional season into a bit of a wash. Now, with yet another year under his belt, Ellerbe is on a multi-purposed mission this camp - win back some playing time at the inside linebacker position next to Ray Lewis, and earn back his coaches' trust.
"Guys tend to grow up sometimes, and Dannell, I think, made a conscientious effort," Harbaugh said this week. "He talked to me when he first came in here (this year). He had done a lot of thinking about it. He has always been a hard worker. He has always been a good person - a good-hearted person. I think he saw some things, just from a professional standpoint, that he could grow, and he has done a great job of that."
From Ellerbe's perspective, he says he isn't worried about a negative image that he might have built for himself.
The showboating after the interception ("It was my first NFL touchdown," Ellerbe said. "I just wanted to do something to spark up the defense."), being late to at least one team flight ("It was a couple of times. It really wasn't my fault I was late, but I'll take responsibility for it."), and not paying full attention in meetings drew the ire of coaches, and might have given fans the idea that the former University of Georgia star didn't have his priorities in check.
Instead of concerning himself with the public's perception of his actions, Ellerbe says all he can do is try and win back the trust of those at team headquarters.
"I really don't worry about that," he says. "I've been going through that ever since college. I'm kind of used to that. I just go out and do my thing and work hard out here.
"I went through it my whole career at Georgia just about. I'm used to it. I really don't care about what people say as long as I know what I'm doing is right and as long as I'm good in-house with the coaches."
Ellerbe appeared to be on the fast track to stardom after working his way up from undrafted free agent to a starter at inside linebacker for the final five games (including two postseason contests) of his rookie season.
But largely due to his off-field mistakes, he took a clear step back last year, losing the starting job to Jameel McClain. Ellerbe made just one start on the season and was declared a healthy scratch for five games.
"I took it as a stepping stone," Ellerbe said. "It just means I had to work even harder and fight even harder for what I want. I appreciate it. It's making me a better person."
Ellerbe says that he came into this season with a new mental approach. He was prepared to work harder on and especially off the field, and prove that he was mature enough to handle playing in the NFL.
His coaches are noticing the difference.
"He's taking notes, he's in his iPad, he's studying, he's asking the right questions, and it's showing up on the field," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "And I think he understands that to get to the level that Ray (Lewis) is at, the level that (Terrell) Suggs plays at and Ed (Reed) plays at ... if you just say, 'Ok, do what he does. Whatever he's doing, do what he does,' your game is bound to rise also. I'm really proud of him that way."
"It's a process for everybody," Harbaugh said. "I just think Dannell came back with a great attitude and a real mindset that he was going to be a real pro. He's always worked, hard he's always had a good heart, but he's been a real pro. And, I think it's shown up in the way he's played."
Ellerbe is back in a competition for the starting job, and while McClain looks to have an edge, Ellerbe has turned in a strong camp and has made a good impression in his preseason performances.
"I think I'm playing good," Ellerbe said. "I'm not making mental errors. I'm making plays, I'm not getting plays made on me. I'm feeling good.
"I feel like I can do everything: cover, take on fullbacks, rush. I did it all my rookie year. I played every snap. I know I can do it."