By Jeff Zrebiec
8:00 AM EDT, July 19, 2012
The Ravens will hold their first full-team practice of training camp on Thursday, July 26. Each day leading up to the official start of camp, The Sun will examine several key position battles that will be decided during preseason.
BACKUP RUNNING BACK
The competitors: Anthony Allen, Bernard Pierce, Damien Berry
Breaking it down: One of the biggest questions of the Ravens’ offseason was finally answered Monday when the team agreed to a multi-year extension with running back Ray Rice. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Rice rarely comes off the field and has missed only three games in his career because of injury, all coming in his rookie season. The diminutive running back does take quite a pounding and the Ravens have had veteran insurance behind him the past three years with Willis McGahee and Ricky Williams.
But that backup veteran presence behind Rice doesn’t presently exist. The Ravens are known for adding pieces during training camp and they’re always looking for ways to augment their roster. If their younger backs don’t look ready in training camp, they’ll add somebody. But their current stable of backup running back candidates – Anthony Allen, Bernard Pierce, Damien Berry and Bobby Rainey - has a total of three NFL regular-season carries among them.
Allen, a seventh-round pick in 2011 out of Georgia Tech, has all three of those carries for 8 yards. He didn’t get much of an opportunity in his rookie season as he was inactive for the Ravens’ final 13 games. Allen had a good preseason last year and he looks in good shape and poised to compete for the opportunity behind Rice. However, it’s hard to know what exactly the Ravens have in Allen until he gets meaningful carries.
Pierce, a third-round pick in April, finished second in Temple history with 3,570 rushing yards. He had 1,481 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns during his rookie season. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, Pierce has enough power to succeed in short-yardage situations and enough speed and explosiveness to break some long runs. He may be eased into the game plan, but Pierce figures to contribute as long as he can stay healthy.
Berry, an undrafted free agent out of Miami who spent last season on the practice squad, and Rainey, an undrafted free agent this year from Western Kentucky, will likely need strong camps to make the roster.
The bottom line: It’s probably fair to say that Allen enters training camp as the No.2 running back, largely because he’s the only player behind Rice who has NFL experience – albeit very little of it – and he knows the Ravens’ offense better than the others. But there’s no doubt that Pierce will get an extensive look in the preseason. The Ravens abhor trading draft picks and they were willing to trade one in order to move up in the third round and make sure they got Pierce so there’s no question that they are high on the Temple product. If Pierce stays healthy and proves he can be trusted to hold onto the ball and pick up blitzes, his role should expand more and more. And ultimately, he could prove to be the change of pace back for Rice that the Ravens have been seeking. However, I wouldn’t rule out the Ravens adding a veteran during training camp for some insurance.
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