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Positional Review Preview : Running Back

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I continue to move around the offense and as we peer into the backfield

2008 Review:

Baltimore has been a team over the years defined by their defense and their ability to run the football. 2008 was no different as they used a variety of weapons to establish the 4th best Rushing attack in the NFL (148.5 ypg).

The way in which they accomplished this was a bit different than in past seasons but it could be a formula that other teams may emulate. The three headed monster of Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice each brought a different style and element to push the Ravens as one of the top running teams in the league.

Willis McGahee. McGahee rushed for a career low 671 yards and seemed to endure a plethora of injuries to his knee (which he just completed surgery), eyes, ribs and most notably ego.

He was the player that Cam Cameron raved about that Willis would be the feature back that would shoulder the load on offense. A three down, tough player whose multiple talents would be on display.

Instead, McGahee only notched three games with over twenty carries and was inactive for just as many. He found his way rather quickly into Coach Harbaugh’s doghouse that he doesn’t have with uninspired practice habits and preparation. He did rebound to finish the season stronger but being carted out of Heinz field during the AFC title game put an exclamation point on a tough 2008.

The breakout star of the group was Le’Ron McClain, the former special teamer and fullback who took the bulk of the carries and reminded some of a young Bam Morris.  He had career highs in every category in his second season, leading the team in Rushing (902 yds.) and punching in 10 touchdowns while running at 3.9 yards a clip. At 260 he was a load to get off his feet yet showed nimbleness in the open field.

Ray Rice showed flashes and adjusted to the tough terrain the NFL provides a young player. He was thrown into things quickly getting 22 carries against the Bengals in the home opener but his best performance was against the Browns. He helped spur a huge comeback and scooted to a 154 yd performance on 21 touches (avg. 7.3). In Week 14 he was dealt a hard shot by the Redskins defense and was out the rest the way only making a token appearance against the Steelers in the playoffs.

Vet Fullback, Lorenzo Neal was also big part of the revitalized running game. He helped clear the path and allow McClain to change roles and in his 16th pro season still showed some durability.

2009 Preview:

Will the three headed attack still survive into next season? Yes but it will just look different.

Lorenzo Neal was not resigned. While I’m a bit upset by the move since it wouldn’t have cost much word is that the staff felt that he broke down during playoff time. He signed with Oakland. Good luck with all that.

Willis McGahee is one of the biggest question marks for this team going forward. They have a lot of money tied to him so they must find a way to motivate him and get better production out of him. First in his defense I don’t think he was fully healthy. He had a bunch of different injuries and his relationship with the new staff was awful. Secondly he needs to re-establish his commitment to his teammates and hanging out in Vegas while the rest of team sweats out OTAs isn’t the way to do it.

I’m actually looking for a better season from Willis. One, because he can’t get much worse and second because a healthy motivated McGahee is still a runner with great speed and ability. Just watch an old DVR of him gashing the Cowboys in week 16 and you see what he can be.

Ray Rice will blow up huge this season. I’m not the first to call it but save my seat on his bandwagon now. He has arrived into these OTAs with added muscle and a ton of confidence and has impressed everyone. Some games this past season fans wondered why he wasn’t involved more. I think he was just adjusting to the NFL. He will be a dangerous weapon on screens and draws. I won’t put him in the Jones-Drew category yet but many feel that he could be that type of player.

McClain moves back to fullback. I was outraged when I first heard this but have since done some stretching and deep breathing. This won’t be as catostrophic as I predicted (though someone still needs to explain to why he only got 1 flippin’ carry in AFC championship game!) as he should still be the “goal line vulture” that does so well in Fantasy and he will still get carries just not so many. He also wore down quite a bit by season’s end too. I hope that he begins to become a Mike Alstott clone, running over defenders and catching some balls as well.

It now becomes easier to understand the depth pick of Cedric Peerman in the 6th round. The Virginia Senior ran for 1,749 yards in his career to go with 15 touchdowns. He has good skills but isn’t the most explosive or shifty back. He is a good reciever out of the backfield. Where he fits in will depend on his showing at camp

Put him in the mix with Cory Ross, Jalen Parmele (he’s had good buzz coming out of the OTAs) and Matt Lawrence to see who sticks and can perhaps help on Special Teams and provide depth.

Everyone wants to hear that the team will pass it more but they just aren’t built for it in my opinion yet. The rushing game is still where their bread is buttered for 2009.


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