"This year, nobody's going to be able to say I didn't put in the work."
These are the words of Ravens running back Ray Rice after I saw him in late-April with a drastic change in his body. Rice's image, both physically and publicly, is something he'd never thought he'd have to change, or answer questions about. However, an injury-hampered season in which he averaged just 3.1 yards-per-carry followed by an uncharacteristic arrest in February for a domestic issue has Rice with his back against the wall.
Now, he's ready to bust loose.
Contrary to popular opinion, Rice's body and work ethic weren't the reason for his subpar performance. The main problem was the philosophy Rice would craft his game around, sacrificing speed for strength. Given that Rice was plagued with hip issues and fell to the ground twice untouched as his hip entirely gave out, Rice's downfall was likely overworking his body to prepare for Sunday.
People also confused Rice playing 10 pounds over his playing weight of 212 pounds was fat, not muscle. Being in the locker room, I can assure you the last thing you would have called Rice last season was fat.
Having to lay low from the public eye, Rice has traded the time he typically dedicated to community events for additional workouts and his results are glaring. Rice has dropped more than 15 pounds and his explosiveness has returned as it was evident during offseason team workouts at the Under Armour Performance Center.
It's evident that Rice and his wife have moved on from their domestic situation as they have since wed, had a ceremony with their family and friends last month, have walked hand-and-hand into the court room, press conference and the league's office to meet with NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. While the support from Rice's wife doesn't necessarily hurt his cause, he's still expected to be suspended by the league.
The main question is, for how long?
As training camp is beginning, it's likely the league won't keep the Ravens waiting much longer on how long they'll have to go without their top running threat. It's unknown how long he'll be suspended for, but the games will be extremely important. The Ravens are slated to face each of their AFC North foes in the first three-weeks of the season.
For the same reasons Baltimore grew to love Rice and treated him like their adopted son is the same reason I'm extremely confident in his ability to win back the hearts of Charm City and Ravens fans in general. While the damage from a flair-up in his personal life will cost him more than money, hopefully the display of Rice's handling of adversity is enough to win back the approval of a chunk of his naysayers.
Rice is walking into a great football situation within Gary Kubiak's offense, he's already respected by his teammates and has done everything possible to better himself since a few-second lapse of judgment back in February.
I can assure you Rice will overcome his adversity and he'll return to not just one of Baltimore's favorite Ravens, but he'll be one hell of a football player once his suspension is over.