Even though there has been some talks of a hold out for the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice this off season, the Pro Bowl running back has made it known that he will be ready to play and has every intention of taking the field with his team week one against the rival Bengals.
Rice is poised to have another outstanding year in 2012. This will be his second season with all pro fullback Vonta Leach but his first with a full off season to work with him and the rest of the offense, making a hold out bad for both sides.
Last season Leach and Rice had their growing pains in the beginning of the season as the two learned to play with each other. There were several times that Rice broke off of the blocking route created by Leach to try and break free but Leach made sure to keep Rice in check and told him "just follow me and I'll get you where you need to go". By the end of the season the two worked together like a well oiled machine and Rice was just that much better for it. Now these two will have plenty of time to work out whatever kinks they may encounter before the season starts.
The Ravens also added a huge, run blocking guard in Kelechi Osemele in the draft. Not to mention rookie running back Bernard Pierce out of Temple. Pierce come to the Ravens as the favorite to be Rice's back up this season. Rice will need to be present so he can work with Pierce and help him get accustomed to Cam Cameron's offense. Pierce definitely has the potential to be a big play runner in the NFL. With his addition maybe there will be competition for carries in the Ravens backfield once again. Pierce was a touchdown machine in college, the Ravens are hoping he can translate that to the NFL.
Rice has always had a good blocking wide receiver here in Baltimore in Anquan Boldin. Last season, rookie Torrey Smith seemed lost while blocking in the beginning of the year but by the end of the season I was very impressed with his down field physicality. He definitely learned some things during the season and did a great job taking it to the field. These two plus the addition of another physical specimen in wide receiver Jacoby Jones should help Rice turn those 10 to 20 yard gains into length of the field touchdown runs. Jones never really lived up to his potential at wide receiver but he is more than proficient on special teams, making him an excellent blocker. He is bigger and stronger than most corners and safeties so blocking one for Rice should be easy for the big guy.
With most of the NFL turning into a pass happy air affair it is dynamic players like Ray Rice that can really carry a team when they aren't clicking on all cylinders. With offenses passing more defenses will be gearing more towards pass coverage and this could really open things up for a shifty scat back.
Of course, the Ravens will have to show they can pass the ball and have the receivers to catch it as well before this happens. With the addition of Jones and some promising young talent in the receiving game I think the pass offense will take a few steps forward this season. Which is great news for Rice. Not only will the team depend on him less to drive the offense but he will also have more opportunities for big plays if the defense can't stack the box against him.