Running Start

Mcgahee '100 Percent' Healthy, Ready To Challenge Rice For Role As Ravens' No. 1 Ball Carrier

July 23, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Proclaiming that he's healthy and in shape, Willis McGahee seems more prepared this year for the rigors of Ravens training camp.

Perhaps the first challenge: winning back his starting job.

Four days before he reports to Westminster, the former Pro Bowl running back said he expects Ray Rice to be ahead of him on the depth chart.

"I'm pretty sure Ray is going to be the guy when we start out, but it's training camp," said McGahee, who signed footballs for about 100 fans Wednesday in a downtown event coordinated by his charitable foundation and Boost Mobile. "It's a long season. No pressure. Like I say: It's not how you start; it's how you finish."

Last year at this time, McGahee didn't report to training camp in shape and was sidelined most of the preseason after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. He subsequently finished with 671 rushing yards and eight starts, both of which were career lows.

After undergoing another knee surgery this offseason, McGahee was sidelined for most of this year's minicamps. When he returned, McGahee was primarily taking snaps with the second team while Rice was running with the starters.

"Yeah, well, Willis showed up to see if he can do something for the team," quarterback Joe Flacco said at an early-June minicamp. "We all expect him to be here and expect him to do a good job when he's here."

Rice, who finished third on the team in rushing and fourth in receiving as a rookie, could not be reached for comment. Quarterbacks, rookies and select veterans report to training camp Monday. The first full-team practice is July 31.

Unlike last year, McGahee said he is "100 percent" healthy and is in shape after running regularly.

"I've got a lot of doubters out there," McGahee said. "It's going to be fun. They can look at me and smile and say: 'He's in great shape. He's doing this, he's doing that.' It's about me proving that I can be Willis McGahee. Yeah, they're sleeping on me, but I want them to sleep on me.

"I just want to show them. They've been counting me out since Day One, since I got into the league. What's another day? Let them keep counting me out."

The Ravens fans who met McGahee on Wednesday weren't shy about their expectations for the seven-year veteran.

"We got to go all the way to the Super Bowl," said Patricia Strout, 41, of Easton. "I put the pressure on him."

Demonte Reid, 16, from Baltimore, was excited for the chance to meet his favorite Raven. "I told him he was the best and he said, 'that's right,' " he said.

The Ravens traded three draft picks (third- and seventh-round picks in 2007 and a third-round selection in 2008) to the Buffalo Bills for McGahee in 2007. In his first season with the Ravens, McGahee produced immediately, leading the team with 1,207 rushing yards on a career-high 294 carries.

Then, last year, McGahee couldn't stay healthy. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in training camp, McGahee dealt with injuries to his eye, ribs and ankle and managed a career-low 170 carries.

He started the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, rushing for 60 yards and two touchdowns. But he left with a neck injury after a crushing blow by Steelers safety Ryan Clark.

Injuries are "something that you can't control," McGahee said. "It was just one injury after another. It was an injury bug last year, and hopefully it's all behind me."

McGahee's foundation received a $5,000 check Wednesday from Boost Mobile, which will also donate $500 to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center for every touchdown McGahee scores this season.

Note: : Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has spoken to the agent for Joe Horn and told him that the team would contact the free-agent wide receiver after Friday's tryouts.

Horn, 37, is a four-time Pro Bowl receiver who averaged 87.4 catches from 2000 to 2004. He made 27 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown in 12 games in 2007 before sitting out 2008.

The Ravens have a connection with Horn. Quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson was the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator in 2007, when Horn was a receiver there.

"The Ravens are one of the teams that would definitely interest Joe," said Ralph Vitolo, Horn's agent.

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wright contributed to this article.

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