Already thin at running back, the Ravens learned Tuesday that they could be without Kenneth Dixon throughout training camp and possibly for the entire season after he suffered a knee injury during a recent workout.
Dixon, who is facing a four-game suspension to start the regular season after he was found in violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus.
Team officials hoped he just needed the meniscus trimmed, which would have sidelined him in the six-to-eight-week range. However, Dixon wound up needing a full meniscus repair, according to a source. The recovery from that procedure is usually requires around four or five months, putting Dixon’s season in jeopardy.
It’s his third knee injury since the Ravens drafted him in the fifth round last year.
The Ravens haven’t commented on Dixon’s injury or the timetable for his return.
If the second-year running back is done for 2017, he would join tight end Dennis Pitta (later released after third hip fracture) and cornerback Tavon Young (knee) as potential key players to suffer season-ending injuries before training camp even started. Tight end Darren Waller was suspended for the 2017 season after he violated the league’s substance abuse policy.
With Dixon sidelined, the Ravens are planning to sign veteran running back Bobby Rainey, who was in the organization when the team won the Super Bowl after the 2012 regular season. The 29-year-old provides depth both at running back and in the return game.
Rainey played last season with the New York Giants, appearing in 15 games and carrying the ball 17 times for 63 yards. He also had 20 catches for 153 yards, and returned both kicks and punts for the Giants.
The 5-foot-8, 205-pound back out of Western Kentucky initially signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and impressed team officials during the preseason with his hard-running style and his hands out of the backfield. He was added to the team's active roster during the season but never played in a game and was on injured reserve during the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII run.
The Ravens released Rainey late in the 2013 preseason. He's since had stints with the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Giants. After joining the Buccaneers in 2013, the diminutive back had 532 rushing yards and six total touchdowns in just nine games.
In parts of five NFL seasons, Rainey has rushed 266 times for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns. He's caught 71 passes for 530 yards and two scores while also handling return duties throughout his career. He’s averaged 9.2 yards on punt returns and 24.8 yards on kickoff returns.
Dixon, who rushed for 382 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games last season and had a receiving score, battled knee problems throughout his rookie campaign.
He strained the MCL in his left knee early in training camp last year and sprained the same knee later in the preseason during a game against the Detroit Lions.
Dixon’s pending suspension, which was announced by the league in March, further complicates the situation. He was eligible to practice with the team and play in the preseason before his suspension took effect before the Ravens’ Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, it’s now unclear when he’ll be able to return to practice, making it uncertain whether he’ll be ready to play immediately after his suspension ends. The first game he’s eligible to play in is Oct. 8 against the Oakland Raiders.
Dixon would be able to serve the four-game suspension even if he were placed on injured reserve before the start of the regular season.
As the Ravens open training camp with their first full-squad practice set for Thursday morning, Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) heads their running back depth chart. West, who will be a free agent after the 2017 season, led the team last year with 193 carries for 774 yards and five touchdowns. He caught 34 passes for 236 yards and a score.
Signed this offseason and coming off a knee injury, Danny Woodhead is behind West on the depth chart and is expected to be used extensively on third down and in the red zone. Woodhead led NFL backs with 80 receptions in 2015 for the San Diego Chargers. He played just two games last year because of a torn ACL.
Behind West and Woodhead are Buck Allen, Rainey and undrafted rookie Taquan Mizzell who had a productive college career at Virginia. The Ravens also could use converted fullback Lorenzo Taliaferro on occasion as a ball carrier.
The Ravens have emphasized getting back to a power running game this season as they’ve had one of the league’s worst ground attacks for two consecutive years. Dixon’s absence certainly won’t help matters.
NFL Network first reported that Dixon is expected to be out for the season.