DAVIE, Fla. — Dannell Ellerbe had a team-high nine tackles in Baltimore’s Super Bowl win last February.
“They looked to retain me but it was at the bottom of the barrel,” Ellerbe said of what the Ravens offered him when he hit free agency.
So much for that. Ellerbe instead signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.
On Sunday, the middle linebacker takes on his old team at Sun Life Stadium. Even though the Ravens, who had salary-cap issues, didn’t want to spend much to keep him around, he claims it’s “just another game.”
But Ellerbe’s linebacker mate Philip Wheeler believes differently. He expects Ellerbe to have additional incentive.
“I think he’ll be really fired up just like I was against the Colts when I played the Colts a couple weeks ago,” said Wheeler, who was with Indianapolis from 2008-12 and had 12 tackles in Miami’s 24-20 win Sept. 15. “I think he’s going to be fired up. They just let you go. He’s going to want to show them that they just won a Super Bowl and he had played well, and he’s going to want to show them something. I think he’s going to bring his game for sure.”
Ellerbe already is in the habit of bringing his game. With 38 tackles, he ranks among the NFL leaders for the 3-1 Dolphins.
Ellerbe and Wheeler both signed as free agents on the same day last March. On that day, Miami also released starters Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett to clear the way for the two new guys to take over.
Ellerbe is the only Miami player who has a Super Bowl ring. But he keeps it in a safety box, not wanting to wear it around a team that didn’t win the title with him.
“I just don’t see a reason to walk around and wear it, because I’m trying to get one here with the Dolphins,” Ellerbe said.
Ellerbe had a banner postseason with the Ravens. He had nine tackles in three of their four playoff games and also had a postseason interception.
Wheeler showed up to watch the Super Bowl after last season having played for Oakland. NFL players are each entitled to purchase two Super Bowl tickets and Wheeler wanted to see Hall of Fame-bound Ray Lewis play his last career game for Baltimore.
While he was at it, Wheeler couldn’t help but get a good look at Ellerbe.
“I saw him making plays right alongside Ray Lewis,” said Wheeler, who couldn’t have guessed then he would the following month become Ellerbe’s teammate.
Ellerbe’s role, though, is different than it was last season when he weak-side linebacker for the Ravens. Now, he’s calling the shots as Miami’s man in the middle.
“I know I could play a whole lot better,” Ellerbe said. “It’s still a learning process. I just got into this type of defense coming from Ray running the show and me helping him and now it’s me running the show and setting up everything.”
There have been some rough edges. According to Pro Football Focus, Ellerbe has missed a team-high six tackles. Still, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle believes Ellerbe is getting more comfortable.
“He’s a fine player,” Coyle said. “I think he’s going to get better and better as we keep going through the year. He’s playing in a spot where he played some in college (at Georgia), but he hasn’t had the NFL experience in there, taking charge of everything, making all the calls and doing that. As he becomes more comfortable with that and doesn’t have to worry about making the right call, and setting the front right, making sure we’re in the right coverage check. A little bit of that is still a part of the process.”
The Ravens, naturally, are saying nothing but nice things about Ellerbe. Quarterback Joe Flacco, whose locker was near Ellerbe’s in Baltimore and was close to him, called him “pretty much all-around good.” Coach John Harbaugh believes Ellerbe is playing even better now than he did with the Ravens.
“It seems like he’s taken his game to even a higher level,” Harbaugh said. “Sideline to sideline, he makes plays on runs, inside screens, outside, he’s good in pass coverage. He’s a complete linebacker right now, and a good man.”
The Ravens, though, didn’t want to make Ellerbe a rich man. That’s a big reason why he ended up in Miami.