In the midst of his most difficult season, Ravens running back Ray Rice vowed that he'll rededicate himself during the offseason to try to regain his old form as one of the top all-purpose backs in the league.
During a season where he battled a strained left hip flexor earlier this season and currently has a quadriceps injury, Rice ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing with 645 yards and is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. This is his worst season statistically since the three-time Pro Bowl selection became a full-time starter in 2009 and the lone season he hasn't rushed for at least 1,143 yards since his rookie season in 2008.
"It’s life," Rice said. "From a personal standpoint understanding that I played through a lot this year. For me to get back out there and just battle and not worry about what I have to do statistically and coming out week in and week out. Statistically, I put all that stuff aside. But personally, I’m glad I was able to overcome some things. I’ve had a platform NFL career and everything has been great.
"Even for some of the people to say you lost a step, it’s different when you have an injury that controls things that you’re normally good at doing. I had to battle that this year but needless to say, I still have to focus on this year and finishing out this year as strong as I can, and next year will be next year. I’ll make sure I’ll come back in the best shape, bigger, faster, stronger, whatever you want to call that stuff, to prove myself again that I’ll still be a premier running back in the NFL."
The 5-foot-8, 212-pounder missed just one game this season with the hip injury, but the injury appeared to rob him of the explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability he'd displayed previously. In the open field, Rice hasn't been nearly as elusive as he was in prior seasons.
Except for a season-high 131-yard outburst against the Chicago Bears' shoddy run defense, Rice hasn't eclipsed the century mark all season. Since that game, which included a season-long 47-yard run, Rice has rushed for 30, 32, 67, 56 and 40 yards during the ensuing five games.
"I’ve dealt with shoulders, I’ve dealt with sprains," Rice said. "To deal with a muscular kind of injury, it was different for me. But that will put a mindset on something that I need to work on in the offseason, whether it’s working on smaller muscle groups that got to fire faster. That’s something I know I can fix. It’s kind of crazy. I didn’t have any shoulders, ankles or stuff like that."
Rice has caught 51 passes out of the backfield, but has gained only 286 yards for an average of 5.6 yards per reception and no touchdowns. His longest reception is 22 yards.
Backup running back Bernard Pierce has rushed for only 408 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. The blocking has also been problematic this season with few big holes for the backs to run through.
Given the injuries and how it's affected him, Rice said he'll take a hard look at altering his conditioning program to emphasize speed work more than lifting weights.
"I had purely muscular kind of deals where maybe something to change for me, maybe less muscle and more speed," said Rice, who emphasized that he reported to training camp in good shape. "It might be something I want to change up, but like I said, that will be an offseason study for myself.
"I’ve always sculpted my body to be ready for the season. I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done training-wise. I think I came into the season in great shape. This just happened to be a freak deal and something I probably wasn’t used to."
Rice didn't practice Tuesday, but was back at practice on a limited basis Thursday.
"Tuesday was a great rest day and recovery," Rice said. "Coach [John Harbaugh] is doing his best to try and take care of us. For me, having a long year, I needed the rest. It definitely felt good getting back out there today with the guys and catching up to speed.
"I don’t miss much in terms of being in meetings and everything but there’s nothing like getting a live rep. It definitely feel good to get back out there with the guys today."
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