'Sackmaster' Elliott knows work is unfinished
In his own words, Jayrone Elliott's phone was "going pretty crazy." Family flooded his cell with texts and voice mails. Friends offered congratulations.
Finally, the undrafted rookie outside linebacker from Toledo — a former defensive end who didn't start in the Mid-American Conference until his senior season — got his chance on an NFL field. Elliott shocked and awed in St. Louis on Saturday, sacking Rams third-string quarterback Austin Davis three times in four plays.
On his third sack, Elliott stripped the football from Davis, just for good measure.
"I was running out of celebrations," Elliott said. "I was telling the guys, 'This is crazy.'"
It's the type of film that could change an under-the-radar rookie's fortune. Even if he doesn't make the 53-man roster in Green Bay, where there's a wealth of depth at outside linebacker, the word is out now.
"I heard he's starting this weekend in front of me," four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews joked this week.
For all the surprise, Winston Moss said he expected Elliott to make some highlight reels.
The Packers outside linebackers coach saw flashes of what Elliott could do since earlier this summer, when the rookie first arrived in Green Bay. After being passed over in the draft, Elliott picked the Packers over a handful of teams, including his hometown Cleveland Browns. He said he felt comfortable in Green Bay. The Packers hosted him for a pre-draft visit, where he formed a good "connection" with Moss.
It didn't take Elliott long to show his potential as a pass rusher. Even before Packers fans learned his name Saturday, Moss thought it was only a matter of time. Still, the coach wanted to see Elliott's talent transfer onto the field in a game.
"Early on, it was in shorts," Moss said. "So you're trying to say to yourself, 'Well, this guy looks good with shorts on in this type of environment, in a practice setting, but how's he going to be able to do it in pads?' At some point in time, we were going to have to evaluate in a live setting."
Evaluations can be tricky. Elliott's breakout series came against the bottom of the Rams' roster, fellow players fighting to make their team. The offensive tackle Elliott beat time after time clearly struggled. Packers general manager Ted Thompson said the competition "drops off" significantly during the second half of preseason games.
Even the best plays have to be measured in context.
That's not to overlook what Elliott accomplished. As a prospect, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said he's impressed with Elliott's height, wingspan and agility, all important traits for a pass rusher. Capers is looking forward to seeing what Elliott does with his reps Friday when the Packers host the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.
Maybe Elliott will face better competition. He'll need to. Three sacks in four snaps won't win a roster spot, not against third-stringers.
"I think you have factor that in," Capers said. "It's always important to know who you're going against because here in a couple weeks we'll be going against the best every week. But, still, he can't control who he's going against. So what he has to do is — whoever he goes against — he has to go out and try to perform like he did."
Elliott knows his work is unfinished. Asked if Saturday helped his confidence, he shrugged. There's no need to get cocky. Elliott is still even keel, never too high or too low.
"That was just, like, 5 minutes," Elliott said. "It was great to finally make some plays, but at the same time, I can't let that affect my mindset."
It's easy to remember his place on the team. Elliott's locker stands off to the side, in a wing often reserved for the scout team. Yet, those five minutes when Elliott morphed into a dominant pass rusher on the NFL stage still matter, regardless how brief. Even if he's a longshot to win a roster spot, Elliott has noticed a difference the past couple of days.
By the time the Packers flight returned to Green Bay and Elliott could check his phone, there were more notifications than he could count. The encouragement from his inner circle meant a lot. The change Elliott sensed with his higher-profile teammates was even more special.
"Usually you walk around, and they'd be like 'What up 91?' or something like that," Elliott said, referencing his jersey number. "Then they started calling me by name, and calling me 'Sackmaster.'
"So, it's just fun to joke around with Clay and Pep, because you know (Julius) Peppers never really talks to anybody, so it's fun to hear him talk."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.