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Rice, Ross, Daniels vie for backup job

The Baltimore Sun

The offseason decisions not to re-sign veteran running back Musa Smith and to cut Mike Anderson left the Ravens without a proven backup to Willis McGahee. That doesn't mean those vying for the job aren't capable of giving McGahee a breather, something he seemed to need last season more than many NFL featured running backs.

Ray Rice, who was picked in the second round out of Rutgers in last month's draft, will likely get the longest look from new coach John Harbaugh, but third-year players Cory Ross and P.J. Daniels could also get their share of repetitions when training camp opens in July.

"We've got some guys pushing Willis, but you can see this morning why he's a top-level back in this league," Harbaugh said after his team finished its last mandatory minicamp workout yesterday in Owings Mills.

McGahee, who returned to the practice field after missing Saturday's workouts with a pulled hamstring, was selected as an alternate to the Pro Bowl after gaining 1,207 yards on 294 carries last season before sitting out the last game with two broken ribs.

But his lack of conditioning at times led former coach Brian Billick to pull McGahee in the fourth quarter of a few games. It has led to many wondering what will happen if Harbaugh is put in the same position this season.

Given his draft status, Rice is expected to be the backup, but the compact rookie acknowledges that he is still adjusting to the NFL.

"Everything moves so fast," Rice said Saturday. "Without pads, you see how fast the defense is moving and how fast the game is that you have to learn. I'm just looking forward to learning quickly and getting into the meeting room and paying attention."

Ross, who has played sparingly in two seasons since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, understands the chance could be there with Smith and Anderson no longer on the team.

"With those guys no longer around, you definitely can get out there and get the job done and get some opportunities," said Ross, who gained 72 yards on 12 carries last season.

Daniels is still waiting for the opportunity. After being drafted in the fourth round out of Georgia Tech two years ago, Daniels didn't get on the field as a rookie. He then tore his hamstring during warm-ups before the first preseason game last season.

Those who have watched his recovery say Daniels has worked hard to get his chance.

Mixing it up

Harbaugh had a little fun during minicamp, moving some of his defensive players to offense. It didn't turn out well yesterday, as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata fumbled a handoff on a goal-line drill and never got to use an offensive line that included linebackers Edgar Jones and Jarret Johnson as well as nose guard Kelly Gregg.

"It was fun just to carry the ball," said Ngata, who was a blocking fullback in high school and also played rugby.

Told that Harbaugh said he might try something like that during the season - minus the defensive line playing offensive line - Ngata said, "I'd love to actually do it in a game."

Speeding it up

The Ravens ratcheted up the pass rush yesterday on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, and it made a bit of a difference.

While the team's first-round draft choice out of Delaware still showed the arm and accuracy to thread some passes through small spaces, as well as extraordinary poise, he also overthrew a number of receivers as the pocket became more crowded.

But Flacco also demonstrated that he can step up in the pocket and get his passes away.

"The thing I saw today when we were moving the ball is he's got to get the ball out quicker," Harbaugh said. "Those guys can cover some ground when they're blitzing, and he's got the red jersey on now so he didn't feel the ramifications of [getting sacked]. I think he understands the speed of the game a little bit at this level."

Heap sits out

Joining a long list of tight ends who are injured - slightly or otherwise - Todd Heap sat out yesterday's workout.

Heap wasn't available to comment, but Harbaugh said it was just a precautionary move because of the problem the former Pro Bowl tight end had with his hamstrings last season.

"He's just rehabbing those hamstrings," Harbaugh said. "It's just part of that process. There are certain issues he's got to restrengthen and certain flexibility issues he's got. We do not want a reinjured hamstring."

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