Harbaugh Expects Ray Rice To Return To NFL's Best

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Ray Rice never* *looked quite like himself during the 2013 season.

He battled injuries throughout the year and was unable to display the big-play ability that has defined his NFL career.

But the Ravens are confident that Rice's down season was an anomaly, and that the 26-year-old running back still has plenty of good years ahead of him.

"My expectations for Ray Rice are to be one of the very best running backs in the National Football League," Head Coach John Harbaugh said during his season-ending press conference. "That's the standard for Ray."

Rice finished the season with 214 carries for 660 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, significantly off from his career average of 4.3 yards per carry.

Rice pointed to injuries as the root cause of the down season, as he dealt with a hip injury early in the year and then a thigh issue in the final two weeks. The injuries were muscular problems, Rice said, which were different than anything he had previously dealt with in his career.

"It was something that limited me in doing some of the things I wanted to do, but it didn't stop me from playing," Rice said. "It's just something that I dealt with. But, everybody has dealt with an injury. You go around the locker room right now, you can't ask one guy who played here healthy, 100 percent. So, if I was 85 percent, that's 100 percent on Sundays. So, that's where I was at with it."

Harbaugh praised Rice for playing through the injuries and missing just one game all year.

"Ray Rice fought through some things," he said. "There were probably some issues he had with his legs that other players wouldn't have even played with [and] just would have said, 'I'm out.' That's not who Ray is. Ray fought through that early on."

In addition to the injuries, the Ravens also had other issues with the running game. The offensive line struggled all season, having replaced three starters from last year's Super Bowl line. Problems in the passing game were also an issue, as the Ravens weren't able to move the ball through the air to prevent defenses from stacking the box to stop the run.

The issues combined to leave the Ravens with a franchise low 83 rushing yards per game. While Rice took a fair share of* *criticism throughout the season, the other backs on the roster didn't fare any better. Backup Bernard Pierce averaged 2.9 yards per carry.

"The numbers weren't there this year," Harbaugh said. "There are different reasons for that."

To get back on track in 2014, Rice explained that he will undergo an offseason study to review his training and weightlifting habits. He even suggested trying to cut back on muscle to lose weight and increase his speed.

Rice is known for his tough offseason training regimen, which Harbaugh expects to have him in top shape when the Ravens open training camp this summer.

"Nobody works harder than Ray," Harbaugh said. "I'm very confident that when he says he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and be better than ever, I'm confident that he's going to do exactly that."

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