'Gifted One'

Ravens Training Camp

In 2nd Season, Rice Is No. 1 Running Back, And He's Working On Raising His Game

August 04, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

There have been many obvious changes with Ray Rice this offseason, more than just his promotion to the Ravens' top running back.

He "trimmed the fat," as Rice likes to say. Last year's second-round draft pick is running with power, driving through tacklers in training camp.

Rice is also much smarter. When the hole closes up, he knows where to bounce, making the cut with confidence.

But to understand the reason he made those improvements, one has to take a closer look at Rice. The word Gifted is tattooed on his right forearm, and One is on his left.

"When I get down, I've got to realize that I'm gifted to play in the NFL," Rice said about his newest tattoos. "Sometimes you got to think - I wasn't the biggest, fastest or strongest. I've had to work to get where I'm at. There are many guys that want to play in the NFL. I'm never going to take that for granted."

His commitment to hard work this offseason has made the 5-foot-8, 210-pound running back a leading candidate to become the team's breakthrough player. Although offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said the Ravens want to continue a running back by committee also featuring Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, Rice has taken the majority of his snaps with the first team.

Even one of the NFL's top run defenses has come away impressed.

"Ray Rice, to me, is just one of the most exciting players to watch play football," linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Rice showed flashes during his rookie season. He was the seventh running back taken in the 2008 draft and finished seventh among rookies in rushing last season.

The key this season is more consistency, which led to a strange request. The Ravens want him to slow down.

Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said a better understanding of the game results in ball carriers showing more patience.

"Last year, he came here in his brand new Ferrari and wanted to drive 100 mph," Montgomery said. "This year, he's in the Volkswagen."

During the offseason, Rice became a student of the position. He would ask Montgomery questions about plays. How is this one supposed to be blocked? Where is the ball supposed to go? Where do you run when the play breaks down?

When he still didn't understand, they would go out on the field and work out the problems.

"You've got to run with a purpose," Rice said. "You can't run being lost."

The advantage Rice has over McGahee and McClain is his impact in the passing game.

He finished fourth on the Ravens with 33 catches, which was a pleasant surprise. In his three seasons at Rutgers, he caught a total of 37 passes.

In Monday's practice, Rice made a leaping catch in the end zone and held on to the ball while falling down.

"Catching is nothing but a confidence thing," said Rice, who led his high school team in receiving. "As long as you don't forget that you're a running back after the catch, you'll be all right. It's different when a receiver catches it. I'm not going to go down after I catch it."

Accepting challenges has become a positive trend for Rice. In January, coach John Harbaugh told his rookies the biggest improvement in a player's career is from the first year to the second.

"And Ray has taken that to heart," Harbaugh said.

Last season, Rice finished as the Ravens' third-leading rusher (454 yards) after missing the final three games with a leg injury.

He contributed immediately with 64 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener. He showed his versatility in the middle of the season with 101 total yards against the Oakland Raiders. Then, a week later, he rushed for 154 yards at Cleveland, which included a 60-yard run that set up the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter.

Now, after improving his strength by lifting this offseason, Rice intends to raise his game.

"I took it serious because I know how it's going to help my season," he said. "I was always a weight-room type of a guy. But there's a difference between training for the [scouting] combine and training for the NFL. I had the whole offseason to train to be a prime-time athlete."

Rookie runners

The Ravens' Ray Rice finished seventh among rookie running backs in 2008:

Rookie, team Att. Yds. TDs

Slaton, Hou. 268 1,282 9

Forte, Chi. 316 1,238 8

C.Johnson, Tenn. 251 1,228 9

Stewart, Car. 184 836 10

McFadden, Oak. 113 499 4

Choice, Dallas 92 472 2

Rice, Ravens 107 454 0

Backs side by side

2008 statistic Rice McGahee McClain

Games 13 13 16

Carries 107 170 232

Rushing yards 454 671 902

Rushing avg. 4.2 3.9 3.9

Longest run 60 77 82

Rushing TDs 0 7 10

Rushing 1st downs 19 34 51

Receptions 33 24 19

Receiving yards 273 173 123

Receiving avg. 8.3 7.2 6.5

Longest reception 40 35 25

Receiving TDs 0 0 1

Receiving 1st downs 12 8 7

Today:

Practices at 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.

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