Kenneth Dixon's debut in the NFL rode a learning curve as sharp and steep as the Ravens' running back could have expected.

From leading the team in the preseason in carries and rushing yards to sitting out the first four games of the regular season because of a knee injury to starting slowly to getting the most snaps at running back in four of the last six games, Dixon navigated a path filled with as many potholes as there were smooth surfaces. But he relished the highs and lows of his rookie campaign.

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"I feel like I played OK," Dixon said from the phone Friday evening from Los Angeles where he spoke from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl prior to signing his Panini rookie trading cards for the NFLPA. "Coming back from the injury, I have a lot of things I have to work on to get better. But I felt I played better toward the end of the season, and that's a lot to build on."

Dixon, who turns 23 on Saturday, finished second to Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) in attempts and yards for the season. But Dixon had more snaps, carries, and yards than West did in four of the team's final six games, which he viewed as an encouraging sign.

"It was meaningful," he said. "It showed that the team had a lot of trust in me, and it showed that I could be trusted with a lot of reps in a football game. So it meant a lot."

Dixon had led the offense in rushing with 66 yards on 16 attempts and then ran for 41 yards on six carries before suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee in the Ravens' third preseason game against the Detroit Lions. That injury forced him to sit out the first four games of the regular season, which – in Dixon's view – was significant.

"It had a big impact because I had gotten into shape and gotten in the flow of things and the speed of the game and then I had to sit out five weeks and rehab," he recalled. "But you couldn't really do too much on a sprained knee. And then I had to get back into shape and get back to my old self. So it had a little bit of an impact on me, but at the end of the season, I felt fine and I felt like I played well."

Because of the limitations linked to the injury, Dixon, 5 feet 10, 212 pounds, acknowledged that he did not monitor his diet as carefully as he should have, and added five pounds. Shedding the weight and regaining his conditioning was another lesson in his acclimation to the professional level.

"The most important lesson I learned is stay ready so that you don't have to get ready," he said. "The reason I say that is coming off the injury, I kind of gained a little bit of weight when I shouldn't have. I could've been on a diet so that I didn't have to trim weight to be prepared to play. So I would say stay ready so that you don't have to get ready."

Dixon's final numbers of 88 attempts for 382 yards and two touchdowns and 30 catches for 162 yards and one touchdown were respectable. But he and West contributed to a rushing unit that finished 2016 ranked 28th in the NFL with a 91.4 yard average and 21st with a 4.0 yards-per-carry average. The team also ran the ball a franchise-record low 367 times.

The organization hired former offensive coordinator Greg Roman as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach who will help retool the run game. And coach John Harbaugh said adding another running back is an offseason priority.

"I like those two guys. [But] we need another back," Harbaugh said this month. "What type of back that is? I think we're talking about it. We have a pretty good idea of the type of back we want to add."

While declaring that he trusts Harbaugh, Dixon acknowledged that comment will motivate him.

"I take everything as a challenge," he said. "Every day in the NFL is a challenge. You have to get better."

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