Ravens' runners weigh in on Rice's probability Sunday

Rice walked without limp at practice and wore protective sleeve around knee

September 29, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The most talked-about Ravens player Wednesday wasn't talking at all.

Ray Rice wasn't made available during the team's open locker room session before practice and therefore didn't shed any light on whether his bruised right knee will sideline him for the team's showdown with the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday.

But the man who could fill the void if Rice sits out said he anticipates that Rice will play Sunday.

"Ray's a competitor, so I doubt he's going to sit this game out," Willis McGahee said. "That's the kind of person that he is."

Asked again if he expected Rice to suit up, McGahee replied, "As far as I know. I don't know what's going on with him, but as far as I know, he was in the meetings with us. So why wouldn't he?"

Fullback Le'Ron McClain was equally confident that Rice would not miss this contest in Pittsburgh.

"I just do pretty much whatever they've got planned for me," McClain said. "With Ray's leg, I thought it would be a big change, but from looking at the game plan, we're just going to do what we do and keep doing what we've been doing."

That sentiment appeared to be validated by Rice's appearance at practice at the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills.

He wore a black, protective sleeve around the knee and did not carry his helmet, but he walked without a limp and seemed to place his weight on the knee without any wincing.

Still, Rice did not practice, and coach John Harbaugh seemed to indicate that the running back would be questionable for Sunday.

"We'll just see how it goes from day to day," Harbaugh said. "There's a chance for the rest of the week, and we'll see how he feels on Sunday. I'm not trying to avoid the question, although I probably wouldn't answer it anyway."

That secrecy could be part of the Ravens' strategy to avoid revealing their cards to a Pittsburgh defense that is surrendering an average of just 59.7 rushing yards through the first three games of the season and is ranked third in the NFL against the run. It's the same unit that snapped the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson's 12-game streak of 100 yards on Sept. 19.

"It's always a plus when the other team doesn't know what you're doing," McClain said. "We're going to practice and do what we've been doing and then come Sunday, we'll see what happens."

Keeping the opponent in the dark might work, but the Steelers plan to assume that Rice will suit up for their game.

"In my opinion, their personality doesn't change very much in terms of how they attack us — whether or not he's in there or not," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said during his conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday. "That's been my experience in competing with those guys. Whether it's McClain as their featured running back — which we've seen — or it's McGahee or it's Ray Rice, they have a form and fashion in terms of how they attack us. Really, that's what we're preparing for."

If history is any indication, Rice might represent the team's best option at running back. In two starts against the Steelers last season, he carried the football a combined 49 times for 229 yards for a 4.7 average, and he rushed for 141 yards on Dec. 27, making him the first Ravens running back to gain 100 yards against Pittsburgh since Jamal Lewis totaled 114 yards on Dec. 28, 2003.

McGahee has averaged 3.5 yards, compiled 205 yards, and scored four touchdowns in six meetings against the Steelers since joining the Ravens in 2007. McClain is slightly better with a 3.9 average and 198 yards in five contests since 2008.

If Rice is unavailable because of the knee injury, McGahee and McClain figure to split time at tailback, but McGahee could get the lion's share of snaps. McGahee said he's ready for the opportunity.

"I'm pretty sure I'm up for the challenge," he said. "If my number is called, I'll step up to the plate."

A switch from Rice to either McGahee or McClain could mean a slight change in styles for the offense. While Rice, who has the strength to plow through the middle, is more elusive outside the tackles, McGahee and McClain provide a physical aspect to their running styles.

However, whether it's Rice, McGahee or McClain in the backfield, opening those running lanes remains the same, according to center Matt Birk.

"It's really not that different for us," he said. "If a play's called, we block it. We don't call plays based on them being named after people. It's hard enough as it is, and injuries are part of the game, but we're fortunate that we've got three guys that can carry the ball and they've proven it effectively. So we'll see what happens."

So which running back will start Sunday? It's anyone's guess. Rice is likely to be a game-time decision, and McGahee said he won't likely know until minutes before kickoff.

"I'm going to find out just like you guys are going to find out," he said with a smile. "I've been in the dark for the longest. Nothing's going to change."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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