INDIANAPOLIS -- For a team whose offense has been built around a punishing running game, it must be a little disconcerting for the Ravens to face the prospect of a depth chart without a certain starter at tailback.
But after declining to put a franchise tag on Jamal Lewis and with the impending free agency of Chester Taylor, the Ravens may find themselves scouring the free-agent market or looking to the draft to fill an obviously essential position.
Enter the running back Class of '06, headed by Southern California's all-purpose wunderback, Reggie Bush, who will surely be modeling some other NFL team's jersey when the Ravens pick 13th in the draft on April 29-30.
More likely candidates when the Ravens make their selection - assuming they're interested in taking a running back in the first round - are Bush's backfield mate, slugger LenDale White, and the slighter but more explosive DeAngelo Williams of Memphis.
While both are projected to be mid-first-round picks, two backs couldn't be more different.
"White has the ability to break tackles, and the great thing about him is that he shows quickness at the line of scrimmage," said Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta, who used the label "workhorse" to describe the back who was the thunder to Bush's flash of lightning at USC.
"He may not have the extra gear that Jamal Lewis has, where you can go 65 or 70 yards on a play, but LenDale is quick getting through the hole. ... and if [the defense] puts eight in the box, he can beat that unblocked safety either with his strength or his feet."
Of Williams, DeCosta makes a comparison to Barry Sanders, a player the Memphis star is often likened to.
"He makes tacklers miss, and he shows that extra burst to break long runs," DeCosta said. "He's not real physical and he's not going to be a great short-yardage runner ... He's going to be the type of player where you have to show some patience. He might lose 5 yards on one carry and come back and gain 17. He's not going to be 4 yards, 4 yards, 4 yards. There's going to some growing pains, but there could be a big payoff."
Both are at the NFL Scouting Combine, and while they're going through some of the requisite paces here, including the endless physical and psychological poking and prodding, neither is running the 40-yard dash. Williams will do his on a so-called Pro Day in late March. White, 6 feet 1, 238 pounds, like some of his Trojans teammates, is performing for pro scouts April 2.
Williams had back-to-back seasons of more than 1,900 yards and an NCAA-record 34 games of at least 100 yards. Asked if he made triple digits a target, the glib Williams said, "I didn't, but the offensive line did.
"I thought 100-yard games were good," he added, "but then they upped the ante on me and wanted 200-yard games and it was just like, 'Can I catch a breather?' But they were expecting 200 yards a game, and I was trying to live up to their expectations."
The concern about Williams is durability. He is barely 5-9 and weighs in at about 210. If Sanders is too grandiose a comparison, a more realistic one may be to Philadelphia Eagles' all-purpose back Brian Westbrook.
"I just want to be an exciting player," Williams said. "I want to help contribute to a team's success. I want to be productive and I want to be utilized."
Southern Cal's White is leaving college with a year of eligibility remaining and fresh off a star performance in a losing Rose Bowl effort against national champion Texas. He was nearly the USC hero with 124 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns but was stopped on a key fourth-down play late in the game. His career total of 57 touchdowns set a school record, and he believes his size gives him an edge in the coming draft.
"I might be the biggest running back out here," said White, who said he weighed 245 pounds for the Rose Bowl. "I have some speed and power. But whatever team picks me, I'm going to be ready to go. Whatever they need me to do, run hard and get the tough yards or be an every down back, I'm willing to do that."
Not surprisingly, he picked Jamal Lewis as a back he believes he most resembles.
"DeAngelo and Reggie are in a class of their own and then you have the in-betweens like Maroney," White said referring to Minnesota's 5-11, 205-pound Laurence Maroney, currently rated a possible low first-round pick.
"I'm kind of happy to be in this class because you get a lot more touchdowns when you're big."