As the Ravens prepare to take on multi-dimensional running back Brian Westbrook this weekend when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town, many point to rookie Ray Rice!(/team/roster/ray-rice/9d941a20-0c76-412d-85fd-165a029d59e6/ "Ray Rice") as a comparable player.
Or at least a player with the potential to reach Westbrook's star status.
Initially, their similar size draws natural comparisons. Rice stands 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, while Westbrook is 5-foot-10, 203 pounds.
But in examining their style on the field, the association goes further.
Westbrook, who paced the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage last year, is one of the most prolific playmakers in the league.
This season, Westbrook sprained his right ankle in Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but played through it. Then, fractured ribs kept him out of an Oct. 12 game at San Francisco. But, a team-leading 726 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns (six rushing and two receiving) show that he can still be an all-around weapon.
Westbrook hasn't practiced all week with a balky knee and that nagging ankle. However, such nuisances haven't stopped the seven-year veteran from playing on Sundays in the past.
"He's probably one of the greatest competitors that you would ever find yourself around," said linebacker Ray Lewis!(/team/roster/ray-lewis/1c6d5ed3-fe49-4a89-a6b5-9e358e906ae7/ "Ray Lewis"). "You're talking about being able to do anything out of the backfield – running, catching, pass block – whatever it is. He has the ability to do all those things."
Which is exactly the type of player Rice wants to become. The second-round draft pick has been an integral part of the Ravens' offense, both as a member of a three-pronged rushing attack and a sure-handed receiver.
Making the most of his opportunities, Rice has 85 carries for 375 yards and 24 catches for 208 yards. The diminutive second-round draft pick out of Rutgers reminds some of his teammates of the two-time Eagles Pro Bowler.
"They're change-of-direction running backs," Lewis noted. "Any time you get that type of mix… Ray Rice has the same type of abilities – real low to the ground, can make a lot of nice, sharp cuts.
"Westbrook is kind of the master of it right now, and he's just a great player when you're sitting there watching him on film."
While Rice recognizes the explosive players of similar stature who have come before him, he wants to create his own mark.
"I've studied the guy. I realize where he came from," Rice explained. "He's definitely a guy that I watch and enjoy learning from. You have to respect him, because he's playing at a high level.
"I don't want to say I want to be just like someone, but you look at what he can do and try to use some of that to better yourself. It's like a basketball player wanting to take some of [Michael] Jordan's stuff."
Rice focused on becoming a more reliable receiver during his final collegiate season. He owns nearly every rushing record for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, totaling 910 attempts for 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns over only three years.
Rice's game was strictly grounded in two of those three campaigns, but he attributes part of that to a talented crew of wideouts surrounding him.
Still, Rice went from four grabs for 30 yards to 25 receptions for 249 yards from 2006-07 before the Ravens made him the 55th-overall selection.
Now, he is a key member of coordinator **Cam Cameron**'s offense.
"I feel like I've been developing, considering that I came from being mostly a runner," Rice said. "I think I'm catching the ball well, getting chances in our offense. It feels good being multi-dimensional. It's something that I like doing and something I want to continue to do."
While Cameron admits that "it is probably too early to make that comparison" between Westbrook and Rice, there are likenesses that could develop as the young Raven matures.
"Obviously size, good receivers and good runners," Cameron stated. "I would imagine [there are] some similarities there."