Bernard Pierce making a case to be Ravens' No. 2 running back

August 20, 2012|Mike Preston

Ravens rookie running back Bernard Pierce may have had the most impressive one-yard rushing performance in NFL history.

In his pro debut in Friday night's preseason game against the Detroit Lions, Pierce had four rushes for one yard, including negative-14 on one carry.

But it's is the other three rushes of six, seven and two yards that have the Ravens — in search of a No. 2 running back behind starter Ray Rice — smiling.

Both head coach John Harbaugh and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery have stated that the competition is still open, but its Pierce's job to lose, especially if he continues to play well.

"Kind of what we expected to see," Harbaugh said of Pierce's debut. "He looks like a talented guy. He ran hard, he had some quickness in there. And, hopefully, we can keep him getting healthier and see more the next couple weeks."

The Ravens may have seen more by now, but Pierce missed practice time in training camp because of a recurring hamstring injury he first suffered while practicing in the rain during the mandatory mini-camp in June.

Against the Lions, Pierce showed he could run with power and had good explosion after his initial cut. If out in the open field, few will catch him.

He looked like the same runner the Ravens scouted a year ago at Temple, when Pierce rushed for 1,481 yards on 273 carries, leading the Ravens to make him the No. 84 overall pick in the third round.

And now Pierce has his swagger back.

"I would say that everybody needs to have that swag, that confidence to show off what they can do under any system," he said. "So, I would say I'm real confident."

It's hard not to like Pierce. At 6-feet and 218 pounds, he is the perfect complement to the smaller Rice. He could play in the regular offense or become the closer in the fourth quarter as a big back to wear down opposing defenses.

Either way, the Ravens want to continue their streak of having good No. 2 runners.

"What we have done here is to be able to get a No. 2 guy that takes some of the reps away from Ray," Montgomery said. "We want to groom him like we didRicky [Williams] last year.Willis [McGahee] was the No. 2, and we used him on third downs, but he also became more of a first- and second-down back on a lot of situations. We want the backup to carry 100 to 150 times a season."

Neither Montgomery nor Harbaugh are ready to anoint a No. 2. Why should they? There are still two preseason games remaining.

But at this point, Pierce appears to be the front runner with rookie Bobby Rainey at No. 3 and second-year players Damien Berry and Anthony Allen at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.

Of all the backs, Rainey has been the most exciting in the two preseason games rushing for 39 yards on 15 carries and catching seven passes for 48 yards. As an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky, where he rushed for 4,542 career yards on 895 carries, he could eventually become a steal for the Ravens.

"He has some great qualities about him," Montgomery said. "He can catch the ball, has good route ability, good vision and good instincts. He ran the ball very well in college. I can't believe a guy like that who can give you value as a punt returner and kick returner doesn't get drafted even in the seventh round. We had some insight on him, and we're happy we got him."

Both Allen and Berry were with the Ravens last season. Berry was on the practice squad, and he has played reasonably well in the preseason, but he might get caught up in the numbers game.

Allen, a converted fullback out of Georgia Tech, was a seventh-round draft pick in 2011. He was impressive in his rookie preseason but has struggled this year, dropping several passes and failing to complete blocking assignments in the preseason games.

It will be an uphill climb for both to make the team.

"I think it's going great," Berry said of the competition. "It's making us all better. It's bringing the best out of all of us. We all bring something different to the table. Bobby Rainey is a great back out of the backfield, catching — sort of like Ray Rice. Ant is a versatile back who played fullback and can do other things like that. And then you've got BP, and BP is a powerful runner also."

Montgomery won't give any of the runners an edge, but he knows it will be hard for the Ravens to stash one or two on the developmental squad.

"We haven't picked the No. 2 running back," Montgomery said. "We're still going through the process of elimination and still seeing how they are going to stack up. It's close competition, and I'm just glad that I'm in on part of the decision, but that I don't have to make the decision."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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