Ravens running back Ray Rice has arrived at a career crossroads.
He's dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons this offseason, and he's coming off the worst season of his career.
Now, Rice enters a season in which he's been suspended for the first two games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after his arrest in Atlantic City.
Entering the third year of a five-year, $35 million contract that included a $15 million signing bonus, Rice and the Ravens are banking on him regaining his Pro Bowl form.
The three-time Pro Bowl runner lost 20 pounds and has appeared quick and elusive during practice, running away from defenders one year after extra weight and injuries robbed him of his explosiveness. Last season, as he played as heavy as 225 pounds and struggled with hip and quadriceps injuries, he rushed for just 660 yards and averaged 3.1 yards per carry.
How Rice performs this year will likely decide his future with the Ravens, who drafted him in the second round out of Rutgers in 2008.
The early reviews on Rice's play have been positive as he adjusts to the trademark zone-stretch plays in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's playbook.
"Ray has looked really good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Comparisons to years in the past, we’ll find all that out during the season, but he’s in tremendous shape. I’m seeing him make a good lateral cut. He has really good burst, acceleration is there,vision is there.
"He’s been very patient with the zone runs, which is something that I believe to be an improvement over the past [few years], even two years ago. He’s catching the ball well, pass protection has been very good. Ray looks really good.”
In the new offense, running backs are required to be decisive as they make cuts. Although Rice has a history of stutter-stepping before making his cut, he's been making the transition to the West Coast offense.
“Ray definitely looks comfortable," running backs coach Thomas Hammock said. "I think it’s a system he’s familiar with, a system that he ran in college being a zone-type of back, and he can make quick, decisive one-cuts down field.”