I'm not going to spill a bunch of digital ink listing Ray Rice's many accolades in his first four NFL seasons. When you're going first in fantasy football drafts, you are a pretty productive player. But the four players vying to back up Rice -- Anthony Allen, Damien Berry, Bernard Pierce (above) and Bobby Rainey -- have combined to rush for eight career yards on three carries (all by Allen), and they did not do enough this preseason to erase any concern about the lack of an insurance policy for Rice. Whether it is their fault or their blockers' or all of the above, that quartet of young backs did not gain traction, at least when taking handoffs, this preseason. They have combined to rush for 217 yards on 74 carries. That's 2.93 yards per pop, and that's not going to cut it. The blocking has not been great, but that is to be expected when you're shuffling a dozen or so linemen in and out of the lineup. But Rice didn't seem to have any major issues as he rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries in limited action. I know this is another one of those "But it's the preseason!" moments. But this is where I point out that Ravens running backs rushed for 376 yards on 82 carries -- an average of 4.59 yards per carry -- during the 2011 preseason and the team went on to finish 10th in rushing yards during the regular season. It's now almost 3:30 a.m. as I write this, but I'm sure there is a least a sliver of correlation there (if not, cut me some slack). Piece, a 2012 third-round draft pick, has shown flashes of potential after a hamstring injury stalled his start to training camp. Pierce has a good size/speed ratio (listed at six-feet and 218 pounds, he reportedly ran a sub-4.40 40-yard dash at his pro day), and his one-cut running style fits what the Ravens want to do offensively. On the first drive of the loss to the St. Louis Rams, Pierce took a handoff for eight yards off right end. The next play, he rushed for eight yards on the left side. Two plays later, he rumbled for 11 yards before he was steered out of bounds by cornerback Cortland Finnegan. He then totaled zero yards on his final five carries, including one where he lost six yards after he couldn't cut around fellow rookie Kelechi Osemele, who was backed up deep into the backfield. Pierce, who rushed for 63 yards on 22 carries this preseason, has the potential to be a starter, but I can't help but wonder if the Ravens can count on him right away. The pickings are pretty slim on the free-agent market at this point, with Ryan Grant and Cadillac Williams among the best options. So the Ravens might have to stick it out -- with fingers crossed -- with Pierce and one or two of the three other backs and hope that Rice, who has never missed a game in his three seasons as starter, continues to be durable and reliable.
Jeff Curry, US PRESSWIRE