On occasion, Ray Rice likes to exchange sweaty jerseys with opposing players that he admires, and he already knows which Cleveland Browns player will be in his crosshairs after the final whistle blows Sunday afternoon.
Rice plans to seek out rookie running back Trent Richardson, who looked up to Rice and other backs while weaving his way to the NFL. But the respect is mutual, as Rice has been a “huge fan” of Richardson, the third pick in April’s NFL draft, since watching Richardson run over and around defenders while he was at Alabama.
“I’m a huge fan of his,” Rice, a two-time Pro Bowler, said Wednesday. “I might have to go ahead and tell Trent, ‘Let me borrow one of them jerseys.’ I might not even have to exchange with him. I might just ask for his.”
Rice will be one of the many Ravens players grasping at Richardson's jersey Sunday.
Richardson, who at 5-foot-9 and 230 pounds has an inch and nearly 20 pounds on Rice, is third among rookie running backs with 470 rushing yards. His six total touchdowns are tied with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III for first among first-year players and seventh among all players. His 25 receptions are second only to Tennessee Titans rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright, who has caught 40 passes this season.
Richardson rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 57 yards in Baltimore's 23-16 win in Week 4, earning the respect of Rice and his teammates. But he was soon slowed by a rib cartilage injury and was yanked after eight first-half carries in a Week 7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He bounced back with a career-high 122 rushing yards in last weekend's 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers and scored the lone touchdown.
Richardson made three defenders, including former Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson, miss in the box before breaking through his offensive linemen -- and bouncing off one of them -- on that 26-yard touchdown run. So far this season, Richardson has broken 31 tackles, including eight in the win over the Chargers, according to Pro Football Focus. Eighteen came on carries and 13 came after a catch, which leads all NFL running backs.
“He’s very powerful. The biggest thing is that he’s short,” said Rice, who minutes later had to move the microphone at the podium up about a foot to accommodate outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. “I think he weighs about 20 more pounds than me, and he’s fast, explosive and he never goes down on the first hit. It’s always the first hit, he’s driving for five extra yards. I think that’s pretty impressive as a running back.”
And that’s why when watching Richardson run, it’s impossible not to think of Rice or Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, whom former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano once called a “bowling ball of butcher knives.” He is short, but he has packed a lot of muscle on that frame. His lower center of gravity is a benefit and his big, powerful legs allow him to drive through would-be tackles, just like Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Richardson has topped 80 rushing yards and averaged more than four yards per carry in just three of his eight games, and he is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry this season. But Rice thinks he is already “a great back.”
“He is just doing what he did in college, obviously taking it to the next level,” Rice said. “There’s a reason why he was a first-round pick.”
And there's a reason why Rice hopes to grab some of Richardson’s grass-stained gear after Sunday’s game.