FREDERICKSBURG, VA. — Anthony Allen's first emotion was disappointment.
He had grown up idolizing Ricky Williams. As a high school running back from Florida, Allen watched Williams' every move during his time with the Miami Dolphins. One of the best parts about Allen's rookie season, one in which his opportunities were essentially confined to practice, was just being around Williams on a daily basis.
Allen is going to miss that, even though Williams' surprise retirement earlier this offseason could lead to exactly what the running back has been seeking: an opportunity to occupy a key role with the Ravens as Ray Rice's primary backup.
"It was a bittersweet moment. You never want to see a guy like Ricky go. He was my favorite running back coming up, but him leaving kind of does open up an opportunity for me," Allen said last night after participating in Torrey Smith's charity basketball game at Stafford High School in Virginia. "Whatever happens in free agency and the draft, it doesn't matter because I'm going to go out there and be Anthony Allen and play Ravens' football."
Most Ravens' fans know very little about Allen, a seventh-round draft pick last year who started his collegiate career at Louisville and ended it at Georgia Tech. The 23-year-old was inactive for the Ravens' final 13 games, and struggled for a good part of the campaign with a hamstring injury. In the five games that he did play, Allen was mostly used on special teams, getting just three total carries for eight yards in the Ravens' blowout of the St. Louis Ramsin Week 3.
Even though he struggled to get on the field, Allen said that the lessons that he did learn about being a professional and being prepared and being an NFL running back were extremely valuable, and set him up well for this coming season.
"I have a year under my belt. I know the system. I know protections, I know the lines, I know the passes. It's just a matter of me going out there and playing," he said. "It's a blessing just to be here, to be in Baltimore, playing with the guys that we play with, having the coaches. I've been working hard this offseason. I'm ready to get back in with the guys and try and get a [championship] next year."
At the owners meetings on Tuesday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the team probably will add a veteran running back at some point this offseason. They have only three on the active roster: Rice, who could hold out if he doesn't get a long-term extension before training camp, Allen and Damien Berry, a second-year player who spent all of last season on the practice squad.
"Anthony Allen goes from third [running back to] potentially No. 1 if something happens," Harbaugh said. "Every backup player is an injury away, a play away from being the guy. We think a lot of him, we think a lot of Damien Berry. We think they're going to have very good seasons, but we've got to look at some insurance, too. We've got to have more than two running backs on our roster, so we'll add some guys."
The free agent running market has been extremely slow to develop. Among the players still available are Joseph Addai, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, LaDainian Tomlinson and Cadillac Williams. The Ravens have less than $2 million in salary cap space and they badly need to bolster their offensive line, but very few running backs are finding much money available in free agency, meaning they should be able to get a team-friendly deal for a veteran at some point for training camp.
However, owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh have all said this offseason that Allen will get every opportunity to contribute.
"I already have that motivation. I was drafted in the seventh round and I still have that chip on my shoulder. I barely played in an NFL game besides special teams, so it's definitely motivation for me," Allen said. "It's a blessing that the coaches trust me, the owner trusts me. It just shows that if you continue to put in the hard work, your opportunity will come and you'll get a chance to shine. That's what I'm trying to do."