Perhaps the surest sign of the Ravens' trust in Anthony Allen was the coaches' decision to insert the running back to succeed Ray Rice in the second quarter of Thursday night's 31-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
But after gaining just 9 yards on five carries (including one for a 2-yard loss) and letting a pass slip through his hands on third-and-5 from the Falcons' 41-yard line, Allen understands that his grip as the first tailback behind Rice on the team's depth chart could be loosening.
"It's a competition," he said after Wednesday's practice at the team's training facility in Owings Mills. "So everything's being charted and everything's being watched. So you want to have more good plays than you have bad plays because statistically, the guy that makes the most plays is going to be the one on the field."
The organization's seventh-round pick in last year's NFL draft, Allen is embroiled in a tight contest with Damien Berry, Bernard Pierce and Bobby Rainey for the right to replace Ricky Williams, who retired from football during the offseason.
Like Allen, Berry spent last season with the Ravens, finding a place on the practice squad. And like Allen, Berry (seven rushes for 17 yards vs. Atlanta) said he's not concerned about the number of snaps he'll get in Friday night's preseason home opener against the Detroit Lions.
"When I get in, it's about what I'm going to do with that time," said Berry, who was not drafted last year. "It's not about how much time I'm getting, but what I'm going to do with that time. If I only get a couple series, what am I going to do with those couple series? That's the question."
At times during this preseason, Allen and Berry have been overshadowed by Pierce, a third-round choice in April, and Rainey, whose 5-8, 212-pound frame and pass-catching skills have reminded some observers of Rice.
At 6-1 and 223 pounds, Allen is a good mix of size and strength, but he has appeared hesitant to hit holes created by his blockers and is continuing to hone his ability to pick up blitzers. The 5-10, 223-pound Berry may be one of the fastest players on the team, but he's still working on his hands as a receiver.
The final three preseason contests will help determine who has the edge, but Allen and Berry both said that they have every intention of competing for the job until the very end.
"Being a competitor, that's the type of thing you want to see," Allen said of the four-way battle. "You don't want it to be given to you. You want to have to come out here and work because it's going to make you better. So I think having guys like Bernard and Bobby and Damien Berry makes me try to step up my game every time I come out here on the practice field. Every time I'm in a game, every time I walk into the meeting room, every time I'm trying to study, I have to do better."
Added Berry: "We all bring something different to the table. So the battle is really going on. We're going to take it down to the wire."