ROCKINGHAM — It may not be visible, but there is a chip on Dannell Ellerbe’s shoulder.
He is looking to erase the last two seasons and anxious for a fresh start in New Orleans.
“It’s guys that want to win. I can honestly say it’s a place that knows how to win,” Ellerbe said. “I’m glad I’m getting back to a place with a great fan base and sold-out games. I’m looking forward to it. It’s always awesome when you have a great backing, when you have sold-out games and the fans got your back and are 100 percent behind you.”
After helping lead the Baltimore Ravens to a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, Ellerbe inked a 5-year, $35 million deal with the Miami Dolphins just a few weeks later.
During his time with the Ravens, Ellerbe shined in a reserve role. There was even talk about Ellerbe being the replacement for Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. But Ellerbe and Baltimore were unable to come to an agreement on a new deal.
This allowed Ellerbe to sign with the Dolphins and coaches, experts and fans pegged him as the next superstar. That never happened despite having a solid initial season in Miami, recording 101 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
Then things started to sour last season between Ellerbe and the Dolphins. In Ellerbe’s own words, he said he was signed by Miami “to play out of position.” In the season-opener against the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, Ellerbe suffered a hip injury.
That setback sidelined Ellerbe for the remainder of the season and rumors were rampant that Ellerbe was going to be released. So the once “solid free agent pickup” from two seasons ago was going to be labeled as a bust and searching for a job.
Luckily for Ellerbe, former Miami general manager Jeff Ireland, the one who signed him away from Baltimore, became the assistant GM with the New Orleans Saints. Instead of hitting the free agent market again, the Saints traded wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Dolphins for Ellerbe and a third-round draft pick.
And Ellerbe had a new lease on life and was excited to have a team that wanted him.
“Coming off my injury and for them to want me to come and build their defense back to the way they want it,” Ellerbe said. “They are trying to rebuild their defense. For them to think of me is awesome…it speaks a lot. I have been watching Rob Ryan for a long time, been hearing a lot about him. He’s a fun guy to play for. A lot of the guys are happy I’m there, they welcomed me with open arms.
“The sky’s the limit for this team. We’re rebuilding, especially on defense.”
Dome sweet dome
Some players don’t like playing inside a dome or on artificial turf, but that isn’t the case for Ellerbe. If he could make his team’s schedule out, he might have all 16 contests in the Superdome.
Two of his biggest victories came in the building he will call home.
“Just to play your home games in a place where I won the Super Bowl is just awesome, you can’t ask for more than that. Every home game will a memory of the Super Bowl for me,” Ellerbe said.
The other came as a Bulldog.
“I won the Sugar Bowl there when I was at Georgia and we beat the stuffing out of Hawaii. I’ve got great memories there. The only bad one is when I played the Saints with Miami I think it was a Monday night game we got blown out…I’ll try to get that out of my memory. For the most part, I have great memories.”
A mentor for Anthony
Ellerbe wasn’t the only linebacker the Saints added to the roster. With its second pick in the first round, New Orleans drafted Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, who graduated from Anson.
Ellerbe is excited to have a player from his “neighborhood” on the team and one who could play right next to him.
“It’s going to be great, any time you have anyone from around your neighborhood come up and make it big like he did…first-round,” Ellerbe said. “It’s a great thing for our community. With me being older, I can show him the ropes. I know he will take it more from me being from the same area. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully next year we will be playing beside each other because I think (David) Hawthorne has one more year left.”
Playing back in North Carolina
Despite a career that has seen him play all across the country with Georgia or in the NFL, Ellerbe hasn’t been able to take the field in North Carolina since he donned the green and gold at Richmond Senior.
So when New Orleans plays Carolina 1 p.m. Sept. 27 at Bank of America Stadium, Ellerbe will be playing in front of his family and friends.
“It will be awesome, I get to save some money on flights, first of all,” Ellerbe said laughing. “Nobody can have an excuse to miss a game. It will be like a home game for me, I know I will have a section sold out, so I’m looking forward to the support. I know a lot of the family supports the Panthers but they support me most of all. It will be kind of the best of both worlds.”
Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.