By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
10:58 AM EST, January 9, 2014
Ravens running back Ray Rice recently paid a visit to general manager Ozzie Newsome, and it wasn't a routine meeting.
The three-time Pro Bowl runner had just completed the worst season of his NFL career, gaining just 660 rushing yards and averaging 3.1 yards per carry -- the lowest numbers Rice has generated since becoming a full-time starter four years ago.
Rice has repeatedly vowed to rededicate himself to regaining his old form, saying he's willing to get back in optimal condition. Rice played at a heavier weight this season and also dealt with hip flexor and quadriceps injuries that robbed him of his explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability.
Newsome says he came away from his conversation with Rice convinced that the running back will have a resurgent season in 2014.
"I think Ray is committed to being as good a football player as he has been," Newsome said Wednesday during a state-of-the-team press conference at team headquarters. "We had great dialogue yesterday on what we think we can do to help Ray to get there. But that combination of us having an understanding and a willingness to provide some help to him, and him having a willingness to work his butt off, we will again have a Pro Bowl running back in Ray Rice next year."
As Rice finished 30th in the NFL in rushing, the Ravens ranked 30th as a team, averaging only 83 yards per game. The Ravens were last in yards per carry, averaging 3.1 yards.
They finished with a franchise-worst 1,328 rushing yards, a major dropoff from previous seasons when the running game was a trademark strength of the franchise.
"To say we’re disappointed in the run game, no doubt," Newsome said. "The history of this franchise has been our ability to run the football."
Some of the decline of the running game can be attributed to a smaller offensive line that lost left guard Kelechi Osemele to back surgery and six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk to retirement.
The Ravens also had to deal with multiple injuries to Rice and backup Bernard Pierce, who dealt with shoulder, knee, hamstring and toe injuries.
"I know that Ray Rice was limited this year, and Bernard Pierce was limited," owner Steve Bisciotti said. "And, if they had been better, then maybe the offensive line would have performed better. Obviously, if the offensive line were blowing open holes, then maybe [Rice and Pierce] could have achieved more with their physical limitations."