McGahee, Rice Pushing Each Other

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Willis McGahee  didn't leave the practice field Wednesday morning until at least 40 minutes after the final horn sounded.

It wasn't because he was signing autographs, although he is good about mingling with the fans. It wasn't due to media obligations, even though he is a willing interview.

A sweat-drenched McGahee walked up the stairs to McDaniel College's Gill Gymnasium fresh off running a series of wind sprints.

McGahee's dedication this early in training camp is something the Ravens hadn't seen in the past, but according to running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, the Pro Bowler is almost in late-season form.

McGahee is running with a mission. Relegated to second-team duty during the Ravens' offseason minicamps as Ray Rice took all the starting snaps, McGahee seems to be battling back into the mix.

Of course, the Ravens don't consider themselves having first- and second-string runners. More like 1a and 1b.

"The whole thing is that it's a luxury when you're coaching guys who want to be the starter," said Montgomery. "Those things normally take care of themselves. But, the biggest thing is that we've got two guys that are pushing each other to get better. It's good that we have that nest egg. We don't miss a beat with any of them."

That group includes fullback Le'Ron McClain, Baltimore's leading rusher in 2008 who totaled 232 rushes for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns. But while fans will certainly see the 260-pound McClain toting the football, most notably in short-yardage situations and around the goal line, he has been taking more reps as a traditional fullback.

With both Rice and McGahee fighting for a majority of the carries, they are only going to make each other better.

Montgomery said that he had a "great talk" with McGahee earlier this spring about what happened a year ago. McGahee reported to camp admittedly out of shape and with a nagging knee injury. He went on to endure eye, ankle and knee injuries en route to a disappointing season.

Now, Montgomery believes McGahee's dedication shows up every day on the field.

"I said, 'Willis, you have to do what you need to and come back ready, even if you're not here in the offseason. Then, when you get here, take it to the house,'" explained the former Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro running back. "No matter where we give him the ball, he's scoring with it and taking it the distance.

"I've been pleased with him. He's running before practice, after practice, during practice. He's really finishing plays. You'd give him the ball last year, and he would run 10 yards, stop and come back. Now, I'm seeing him finish down the field."

McGahee, who began training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list as a precautionary measure, welcomes the challenge.

"I'm looking forward to this season," explained McGahee, who appears leaner than he has been in the recent past. "I'm ready to go. I've been ready. There are doubters out there, but I'll be a part of this offense, just like Ray will be a part of it."

The Ravens are expecting big things from Rice in his sophomore season. He tallied 454 rushing yards and a team-high 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie, but now the second-round draft pick wants to be an every-down player.

As such, he bulked up and worked diligently on his receiving skills to become more multi-dimensional.

Up to this point in training camp, Rice has shown that versatility by knifing through the defense and making his fair share of acrobatic catches.

"The more I produce out here, the more the coaches are going to want to put me on the field," Rice said. "It's not just on game day. I have to do it out here. My confidence is through the roof, and I'm just having fun playing football."

It seems that both Rice and McGahee are having fun.

Rice sees the possibility of a breakout season ahead of him, and McGahee is eyeing redemption.  

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