Each week, we'll bring you a Q&A with a Ravens player to help you learn a little more about the team. Today's guest is running back Ray Rice, who finished the regular season as one of two players (the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson is the other) to compile more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and ranks sixth in the NFL with 1,339 rushing yards. Rice discussed his Pro Bowl season, his relationship with fellow backs Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, and answering the doubters.
Question: Did you envision having the kind of season you've had this year?
Answer: If I could say anything, I would say it's been a dream season. I set goals, and I did want to pass 2,000 all-purpose yards. I thought I could rush for 1,500 and catch 500, but I ended up doing it in a different way [1,339 rushing and 702 receiving]. I can say that I definitely achieved my expectations.
Q: But considering the presence of Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain and the left shin bruise that forced you to miss the final three games of the 2008 regular season, how could you have expected that kind of success?
A: I'm a confident player. When I'm out there, I feel like a confident player when the ball is in my hands. I just really wanted to learn the offense, and as the season went along, I began making plays. It did feel good to see that I'm up there and leading the team in the categories that I wanted to lead in.
Q: How did it feel to be competing with McGahee for the starting role?
A: I felt like I wasn't battling Willis McGahee. I think I was battling myself. I was battling Ray Rice, and I still think I'm battling Ray Rice. I don't think there will ever be a competition between me and Willis McGahee. We're two different players, and if I accept that I'm battling myself and that I want to get better each day, the more successful I'll be in this league.
Q: How do you, McGahee and McClain remain friendly without letting carries get in the way of friendship?
A: We all understand that this is a business and that whoever is hot is going to be the guy. Last week, me and Willis both played well, but all it takes is one running back to have a great game, and he was hot. We just get along. There is no friction. Wilbert Montgomery is our coach [the running backs coach], and he chooses when to put us in the games. At the end of the day, it's about the team.
Q: One of the questions about you when you came out of Rutgers was whether you could be a three-down back in the NFL. Do you think you've answered those critics?
A: I think I've answered a lot of questions - like he can't stay healthy, can't catch. I've always felt strongly that I am a rhythm back. I feel like I need to get going, and I like to get going before I get taken out of the game. I love to play three downs, but I know that in our offense, I might need to be fresher on third down. So if I need to blow first and second down, of course I'll take the blow. But I know that I'm an every-down back.
Q: Those kinds of doubts - including ones about your height - must've been terribly frustrating.
A: It fuels me to be great. You can't judge height. The more I think about it, it wasn't meant for me to be a tall guy. I can't ask God: "Why am I not 6 foot? Why am I not 5-10 or 5-11? Why am I 5-8?" At the same time, what they can't judge is my heart and the desire I have. One thing I feel is that I'm going to outwork the next man. Everybody has skill, but one thing you can't question is my heart and desire. I feel like I have a point to prove every time I run out there.
Q: What was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment?
A: It was in training camp, and it involved Ray Lewis. I was on the twos and he was on the ones, and I ran to the sideline and he tackled me. That was the hardest I had ever been tackled, just him laying his hands on me. He helped me up and told me: "Go north and south. Don't go east and west." I tried to outrun him to the sideline, but I didn't realize how fast he was.
Q: Which non-Ravens player has delivered the hardest hit on you?
A: It has to be [ Washington Redskins linebacker] London Fletcher. He's the guy who I hurt my leg against [on Dec. 7, 2008]. That guy, he can tackle, man.
Q: Where did the "Rated R" nickname come from?
A: One of my linemen, Stefan Rodgers, gave it to me. And the more I thought about it, the more I was like, "Man, that's a cool nickname." If you go to a Rated-R movie and you're a kid, you have to have adult supervision. I think it fits me real well.
Q: Is there an athlete or entertainer you would pay to see?
A: Alicia Keys and LeBron James. I think Alicia Keys' work is incredible, and I also think she's very beautiful. She's a true lady. Women in that industry tend to show themselves a little more, but she's a very classy lady. And her music, she's very talented. And LeBron, he's just a physical freak on the court.