Anthony Allen knew coming into the offseason that he had a tremendous opportunity in front of him.
With Ricky Williams retiring, the No. 2 running back spot behind Ray Rice was open for the taking and Allen was the favorite for the job.
The former seventh-round pick out of Georgia Tech came into the preseason listed as the No. 2 back on the depth chart, but the first two preseason games have not gone as well as Allen had hoped. He has six carries for seven yards and one catch for 12 yards, but he also missed a block that led to a sack and hesitated on a pass across the middle of the field.
"I think I'm a little behind where I thought I was going to be," Allen said this week. "There are a couple of instances in games where I could have made a play and I didn't, with and without the ball. There are some things that I have to work on."
As the Ravens head into their third preseason game against Jacksonville on Thursday night, Allen is still the No. 2 back on the depth chart.
But competition for the spot looks more crowded than ever.
Rookie third-round pick Bernard Pierce got preseason action last week and showed off good speed and cutting ability. Last year's practice squad player Damien Berry looks much improved and was one of the top performers in the loss to Detroit. Berry leads the Ravens with seven catches for 71 yards and also has 30 rushing yards on 10 carries. Undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey has been one of the surprises of the preseason, showing value on offense and special teams.
With all four backs vying for time, the competition is still very much up in the air.
"Right now it's a huge question mark," Running Backs Coach Wilbert Montgomery said. "All of these guys have redeeming qualities that they bring to our offense."
One element that separates Allen from the other backs is his size. At 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, Allen is the biggest of the bunch and would provide a change-of-pace to Rice like Williams did last season.
Williams played that role perfectly last season, and the Ravens like the idea of keeping a big back behind Rice.
"We'd like to have a big back if we can get a big back, because in the wintertime you like to give it to that kind of guy," Montgomery said. "[Allen is] not a very fast guy, but he has the size, he has the strength."
Last season the Ravens kept three running backs – Rice, Williams and Allen – on the 53-man roster, and that will likely be the case again this year. Rice's spot on the team is clearly locked up and Pierce is nearly certain to make the team as a third-round pick.
That leaves Allen, Berry and Rainey competing for the final roster spot. The roster gets trimmed to 75 players on Monday, making Thursday's preseason game against Jacksonville critical for Allen, Berry and Rainey.
"These next two games, I have to go out and try to be perfect," Allen said. "All of these guys are good, they're all great guys, they're all eager to learn, they're hungry, just like I am. It's going to come down to the wire."