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John Harbaugh expects Ray Rice to speak from the heart Thursday

Ravens star running back Ray Rice is about to break his silence.

Rice is scheduled to speak with reporters Thursday morning at training camp for the first time since he was suspended for two games by the league for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy. The ban followed a physical altercation in February with Janay Palmer, his fiancee at the time, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino.

The last time Rice spoke to the media, he conducted an awkward news conference in May that was widely criticized for several reasons. These included his failure to publicly apologize to Palmer, whom he married the day after he was indicted in March. Rice issued a lengthy statement while referring to notes on his cell phone, but didn't take questions.

Rice is expected to answer questions Thursday in front of a crowd of local and national media outlets, including ESPN, CNN and NFL Network.

“You'll see his heart, just like you saw it last time,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “He's not going to give you some polished press conference. That's not Ray. Ray's going to speak from the heart.”

Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program by New Jersey prosecutors after being charged with felony aggravated assault. He also was fined $529,411 by the NFL. During the incident, Palmer was rendered unconscious and Rice dragged her limp body from an elevator.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has drawn heavy criticism for not levying a harsher punishment of Rice, who had a sterling reputation prior to his arrest. The Ravens have also come under fire for their vocal support of Rice.

“A friend is born for adversity, and that's really what it's all about with Ray,” Harbaugh said. “I love the way he’s handled it. I hate what happened. What happened was wrong, flat-out. The thing I appreciate about it is how Ray has handled it afterwards by acknowledging that it was wrong and that he'll do anything he can do to make it right. That’s what you ask for when someone does a wrong thing.

“I’m proud of him for that, from that standpoint. For anybody out there who’s going to misconstrue that and just write, ‘John Harbaugh is proud of Ray,’ then shame on you. I’m proud of him for the way he’s handled it, OK? I’m disappointed in what happened, but you go forward. That’s what we’re going to do as a football team, and that’s what he'll do as an individual.”

Harbaugh declined to offer his opinion on whether the punishment from the NFL was fair, but made it a point to praise how the league adjudicates off-field issues. Precedent might have prompted the league not to issue a lengthier suspension to Rice, given that former Ravens cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Cary Williams previously received one-game and two-game suspensions, respectively, as first-time offenders who were involved in domestic violence incidents.

“There’s no way I’m going to comment on the length of it, but I know this: Those that make those decisions do so with great seriousness,” Harbaugh said. “They aim to be just and fair and they aim to do right by all parties involved. Public opinion oftentimes will push those decisions in a certain direction, but the decision-makers, all the knowable facts about the case, came from the same direction on it. We said all along that the circumstances will determine the outcome and we will respect the outcome.”

The Ravens have contingency plans for their opening two games without Rice. Backup running back Bernard Pierce is expected to shoulder the majority of the workload, with contributions coming from reserve backs Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

“It's going to be tough for us,” Harbaugh said. “It's going to be two games without one of our very best players, but we'll move forward and deal with it. Beyond that, there's really nothing else to say.”

awilson@baltsun.com

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