“The Competition” is a BaltimoreRavens.com series that breaks down every position battle leading up to training camp.
Ray Rice (5-foot-8, 212 pounds, sixth season): For the last four seasons, Rice has been a driver of the Ravens offense. He’s one of the NFL’s premier playmakers and is a three-time Pro Bowler. Since Rice became a starter in 2009, no player in the NFL has more all-purpose yards than the versatile running back. He’s already one of the team’s top receiving threats, but Rice wants to get even more involved in the passing game this year, which could help quarterback Joe Flacco.
Bernard Pierce (6-0, 218, second season): The third-round pick out of Temple showed plenty of potential his rookie season. He came on strong in the second half of the year and finished with 532 rushing yards and a touchdown. The hard-nosed running back provided a boost to the offense in the playoffs, and he helped jump-start the offense in the second half of the Super Bowl. He’s shown the ability to be a playmaker when he gets his hands on the football, and he’s looking to build off the impressive rookie campaign.
Anthony Allen (6-1, 223, third season): Allen has been on the roster for the last two seasons, but his contributions to the running game have been limited. Allen has 19 carries for 69 yards in his NFL career. While the big-bodied back hasn’t carried the ball much, he has been a vital piece to special teams. Allen was active for every game last year and was primarily a blocker for Jacoby Jones on kick returns. Jones attributed much of his success as a Pro Bowl returner to Allen leading the way for him. The Ravens value special teams contributions, and Allen is one of the team’s best in that department.
Damien Berry (5-10, 223, second season): Berry spent last season on injured reserve with a foot problem after being a practice squad player in 2011. The undrafted back out of the University of Miami has good speed and quickness, which he showed off in the preseason last year. He challenged for a spot on the 53-man roster last season before going down with the injury.
Bobby Rainey (5-8, 212, second season): The undrafted back out of Western Kentucky was one of the stars of training camp last year. A strong outing earned him a spot on the practice squad, and he was eventually moved up to the active roster. Rainey ended up going on injured reserve with a knee injury. He’s a quick back with a similar build to Rice, and he’s also a quality return man.
While Rice has been firmly entrenched at the top of the depth chart the last few seasons, he’ll get pushed by Pierce this season. The two backs have different styles, so rotating them in and out of games will allow them both to stay fresh and also mix up the looks for the defenses. Rice had 257 carries to Pierce’s 108 last year, but a strong showing from Pierce could balance out that distribution a little more.
Behind Rice and Pierce, it’s an open race for the No. 3 job. Allen currently has the edge based on his experience the last two seasons. Also, his role on special teams makes him a critical part of the return game.
Rainey and Berry can also make an impact on special teams as returners, which could be their way onto the roster if the Ravens decide they want Jones to do less in the return game. While the Ravens typically only carry three running backs, they could end up keeping four on the roster if the primary responsibility for the No. 3 and 4 backs is on special teams.