Now that the Baltimore Ravens have locked up All Pro running back Ray rice for the next five years the team is set at running back for the foreseeable future. At least for the starting position that is. Baltimore has still not found a clear cut front runner for the number two running back position.
When the 2011 season ended it was thought that veteran running back Ricky Williams would again be the number two in the Ravens back field. Shortly there after Williams announced his retirement leaving the Ravens with a glaring need at the position. Without Williams the team had no other back on the roster with any NFL experience. In fact, they had no other back on the roster that they have shown any trust in to carry the ball in game situations.
The Ravens surprised everyone when they traded away a fifth round pick to move up in the third round and grab running back Bernard Pierce out of Temple University. Pierce was a touchdown Machine in college and scored a career high five touchdowns in one game against our very own Maryland Terrapins. Over a three year span as the number one back at Temple Pierce ran for 3,570 yards on 663 carries with 53 touchdowns. Not too shabby, especially because he only played in 10 games in 2010.
Pierce looked good in OTA's, his fist few practices with the Ravens, but he has been sidelined with injuries for almost all of training camp so no one has gotten a chance to see him compete against a live defense in pads. Now, it seems we will not get to see him play in the first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons either. Pierce is losing valuable time that he will need in order to solidify himself as the back up to Rice.
Beyond Pierce the Ravens have a trio of young backs with much to prove if they want to sniff the playing field on game days. The most likely replacement for Pierce would be second year player Anthony Allen who spent the majority of last season inactive on game days. Allen was considered to be the original replacement for Ricky Williams once he announced his retirement. However, I have seen and heard nothing that would tell me the team has any faith in last seasons sixth round pick. I have to think if the team had confidence in the young back they would have found a way to get him on the field at some point.
Then you have second year undrafted free agent Damien Berry. Berry spent 2011 on the practice squad and, although has shown some potential at times, does not seem to be the answer for the number two role. Berry seems to be more of a player the team wants to keep around in case of a rash of injuries at the position.
Last but definitely not least we have rookie undrafted free agent Bobby Rainey. Rainey is the only running back that has turned heads so far in camp. He has excellent hands in the passing game. Some say he may even have better hands than starter Ray rice. He also has excellent patience and vision running the ball out of the back field. The knock on Rainey has been that he is too small. He stands 5'7" and weighs in at 205 lbs. Almost the exact same size and weight as Ray Rice, 5'8" 212 lbs.
In college Rainey set the Western Kentucky record with 4,542 rushing yards over four seasons even though he only had 240 yards on 35 attempts as a true freshman. The next season he improved to 939 yards on 144 carries. Bobby really broke out in 2010 when he carried the ball 340 times for 1,649 yards and 15 scores. Then in 2011 he again broke his previous mark with 1,696 yards on 369 carries and 13 scores.
It is amazing to me that he was not drafted and I think the Ravens may have gotten a huge steel with this guy. The problem most fans and NFL experts tend to bring up is that he is too much like Ray Rice... Um, what? So you have an All World running back as your starter and you're upset that one of your possible back ups is too much like him? Who says that a team has to have backs that are pace changers? The Ravens clearly run a system that uses the running back frequently in passing situations as well as running the ball. Wouldn't it be nice if you could give Rice a breather and not skip a beat with your offensive game plan? Of course you also have Bernard Pierce to come in if you really need to just pound the ball up the middle play after play.
You need look no further than the New Orleans Saints to see how a multiple back system can be effective in today's NFL. Imagine you have a package in which you take out the full back and have Rice and Rainey lined up on either side of Quarterback Joe Flacco. The defense would have to shadow both backs coming out of the backfield, leaving at least one of them in single coverage. If not both. Most likely the defense would have to cover them with a linebacker or safety which would be a mismatch in our favor all day long.
I think the possibility of keeping Rainey on the active roster could be huge for the Ravens. Not to mention that if Rice were to be injured you would have a very similar player you could plug right into his position in certain packages. In what looked to be a very crowded backfield Bobby Rainey is the only one in camp that is making some noise right now and that could be great for him and the team. If Pierce does indeed sit out the first preseason game Rainey will be a player to watch once he gets on the field.
Pierce should be back soon and we will all get to see what it was in him that caused Ozziie Newsome to use two of his ever so valuable draft picks on him but, for now, let's get all we can out of the young back from Western Kentucky in hopes that he continues his stellar camp performance. The Ravens now have a bit of salary cap space to maneuver around a bit. Let's hope that the combination of Pierce and Rainey are enough to keep the team from using that money on bringing in a veteran running back. If they do, we may never get to see the true potential that some of these young players can bring to the table.