With a surprising stumble to the 30th overall rushing attack in the NFL last season, addressing the running game became a priority for the Ravens' front office heading into 2014. Injuries and an abysmal offensive line were largely to blame for the downfall of what was one of the league's best rushing attacks, but Ray Rice absorbed most of the blame.
Those only looking at stats will see that Rice's rushing average plummeted from 4.4 yards per carry during the 2012 Super Bowl season to 3.1 in 2013. The same people calling for Rice's benching due to his performance only had more fuel added to their fire when Rice was uncharacteristically arrested for allegedly assaulting his now-wife in a New Jersey casino.
Thus far, Rice has done everything necessary to prove his worth to the team and his naysayers by staying out of the public eye and dedicating his time to his body. With the help of a personal chef during the week and a non-stop workout regiment, Rice is now down to 205 pounds and has fully recovered from his injured hip last season.
Unfortunately, while Rice will avoid jail time, he still faces discipline from the NFL and could be suspended to start the season by commissioner Roger Goodell. So, could the Ravens rely on backup running back Bernard Pierce to shoulder the load until Rice's return?
Judging by the interest the Ravens had in LeGarrette Blount during free agency prior to him signing with the Steelers and by drafting Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth-round from Coastal Carolina, I believe the confidence in Pierce has been dwindling.
Remember those people I spoke about previously who only looked at Rice's stats? Well, had they looked at what Pierce was doing they would have seen that he was actually worse with a 2.9 YPC average. Also, he's less durable than Rice, having been plagued by injuries throughout most of his career.
The interest in Blount and the drafting of Taliaferro have the Ravens looking to add big-bodied guys and more of downhill runners, characteristics that mimic Pierce's game, not Rice's.
After seldom using fullback Vonta Leach the past two seasons and releasing him during the offseason, it's clear the Ravens are getting away from the ground and pound rushing attack and running the ball down their opponent's throats. Adding Taliaferro into the mix will ultimately take Leach's roster spot and give the Ravens more active options on Sunday's for their rushing attack.
Pierce is coming off of rotator cuff surgery in January and is expected to be back by training camp. Now with legitimate competition in camp and a starting spot likely on the line if Rice is suspended, Pierce needs to rebound in new offensive coordinators Gary Kubiak's system to not only have a chance to showcase himself, but keep his job as the Ravens No. 2 back.
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