Ellerbe shining in expanded role for Ravens

Once an undrafted free agent, Dannell Ellerbe has been thrust into a role that few might have envisioned when he joined the Ravens in 2009.

Ellerbe has taken on a chunk of the responsibility vacated when Ray Lewis was placed on injured reserve with torn triceps, starting the last two games at inside linebacker. Before that, he had played a significant amount in appearing in all eight contests so far, and the 26-year-old has earned that time.

Ellerbe leads the Ravens with 3.5 sacks for 21.5 yards (second-most on the team), both of which are career highs just halfway through the season. Ellerbe is also third on the squad with 49 tackles, another career high. His previous bests are 37 tackles and one sack. He has added two passes defended and a forced fumble.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker has been one of the only Ravens to be a regular in the opposing backfield, putting pressure on the quarterback and causing foes to make mistakes.

Coach John Harbaugh expressed that he has seen Ellerbe round into a productive player, but that didn’t start this year.

“Dannell played well last year. He is a guy that has had a lot talent all the way through,” Harbaugh told reporters this week. “From a professionalism standpoint, he has just made tremendous growth. He has really become a serious student of the game. He works really hard at it. Obviously, he has been working with Ray and Jameel (McClain). Those are two very serious guys, and Dannell has really grown as a player that way.

“To me, that’s the biggest improvement. He’s always had the talent. He has become a really good technician, and he is playing at a high level. He has never not done well when he has been put on the field, and now his role continues to be expanded, and he continues to do well.”

Since Lewis’ injury, Ellerbe has been one of the defense’s standouts. He recorded a season-high 12 tackles at Houston. On Sunday at Cleveland, he had nine tackles and a sack despite having casts on his thumbs, restricting the use of his hands.

Ellerbe also has matched Haloti Ngata for most sacks in a single game this season - 1.5 against New England on Sept. 23. He recorded eight tackles as a reserve that game.

Harbaugh has been impressed with the fourth-year veteran’s play of late.

“He’s done a great job of maturing, like they all do. He’s become a real pro,” Harbaugh told reporters. “But there was really no doubt in our mind that when the opportunity came, he was going to do well, because he’s always done well with every opportunity he’s gotten - whether it be special teams, in the dime/nickel package or in the regular package. He’s never not done well. He’s been up to every challenge so far, and I expect him to just keep getting better.”

NOTE: Defensive end Pernell McPhee (thigh), Ngata (shoulder), guard Bobbie Williams (ankle) and guard Marshal Yanda (ankle) did not participate in practice today.

Safety Ed Reed (shoulder/knee) returned to practice, but was limited. So were linebacker Josh Bynes (thigh), wideout Jacoby Jones (toe), tackle Michael Oher (ankle), wideout David Reed (knee) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abs).