Injuries and previous injury-related setbacks can occur at any time in professional sports, especially in football. Any given play can result in a season-ending ailment for any player at any position.
Bad injury luck doesn’t play favorites, although it seems to strike some more than most. That’s the case unfortunate case with the Baltimore Ravens and running back J.K. Dobbins, who was lost for the remainder of the 2023 season after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 1.
The former second-round pick was poised to finally have his long-awaited breakout season and had racked up 37 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 10 combined touches before going down.
As devastating as these injuries can be for the players, their teammates at the same position are presented with an unexpected opportunity to receive more playing time. The Ravens running backs that will see their roles expand the most are veterans Justice Hill and Gus Edwards, who have spent their entire careers with the team to-date.
They both spoke with the media earlier this week and expressed their excitement to see the field more often and how they intend to make the most of their increased opportunities.
“I bring a physical aspect [and] Justice is more speed; agility guy,” Edwards said Wednesday. “I’m excited for him, too, because I know he’s primed to have a good year. He’s been working his tail off, too. So, I’m excited for him to see what he does.”
While the “next man up” mentality is the most commonly used cliché in sports, Edwards is confident that he and Hill can “step up” and produce.
“That’s what we get paid to do,” Edwards said. “Everybody has a family to feed, so we have to step up and do that.”
After Dobbins left the season-opener against the Houston Texans, Edwards recorded all 32 of his rushing yards and Hill matched his career touchdown total with two in the second half alone.
Edwards is not a stranger to having a heavier workload and regular role on offense. He averaged 716.6 rushing yards, 138 rushing attempts, and 342.6 offensive snaps in his first three seasons with the team from 2018-2020. He missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL and was limited to just nine games in 2022 but still averages 5.1 yards per carry for his career.
“I’ve always been preparing like I was going to get a lot of carries,” Edwards said. “It’s really not too much of a difference to me. [I’m] making sure that I’m conditioning and feeling good during practice [and] wearing myself out in practice so that way the game is easier for me. I’ve already been doing that so I should be straight.”
Edwards got a chance to be the Ravens lead back about halfway through his rookie season and had a near-even split in 2019 and 2020. Hill, on the other hand, has primarily played special teams in his career up to this point despite showing impressive flashes in limited opportunities at times.
The 2019 fourth-rounder is excited about this chance that he has been patiently waiting for and said he is “going to take full advantage” of it now that his time has come.
“You’re always ready for opportunities, and when the opportunity is here, you have to execute,” Hill said Friday. “I’ve been here for four [or] five years now, and I’ve been waiting for this opportunity.”
“I’ve definitely been waiting on this for a while. I’ve been on God’s time, and I’m always ready, so I get to show the world now.”
The Ravens still intend to play Hill a lot on special teams because of his proficiency in that aspect of the game. He could still wind up seeing more offensive snaps than either Edwards or Melvin Gordon. He’s a complete third-down back who excels as both a pass catcher out of the backfield and pass protector to pick up blitzers or help with a chip block.
“I’m going to give them my all no matter where I’m at [on the field] because I just want to win. So, now [that I’m] getting called to do more responsibilities at RB, the same goal is the same goal. [I’m] just trying to win, help the team win, and try to get to the Super Bowl.”
No matter who gets the start this week against the Cincinnati Bengals and Hill’s younger brother Dax in Week 2, expect to see them both in the game early and often doing their best to make plays, move the chains, and score points.
“It’s going to be a physical game,” Edwards said. “Everybody’s dialed in. We know how big this is. It’s early in the year, but it’s a big game for us.”
Another player at the position to monitor down the road is undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who made the initial 53-man roster before being placed on injured reserve. He will be eligible to return as early as Week 5 and possesses explosive playmaking ability as well.