When Ray Rice is sitting at home in need of some inspiration, he pops in game tapes of his idols: Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.
"You've *got *to watch what these guys do," Rice said. "The things they did were incredible."
While it may seem premature, Rice himself is already being mentioned in the same sentence with some of the NFL's greatest running backs.
But in just his second season and his first as a starting running back, Rice is having the kind of season that justifies such talk.
With 1,041 rushing yards and 652 receiving yards, he is on pace to become just the fourth player in NFL history to post 1,000 rushing yards and 800 receiving yards in the same season. Marshall Faulk, Roger Craig and Steven Jackson are the only three running backs to accomplish that feat.
Faulk and Craig are just two players Rice has been compared to in the past week.
"He really reminds you of Barry Sanders. With his quickness, he reminds you of Eric Metcalf," teammate Ray Lewis said after Rice ran for a career-high 166 yards in virtually one half of play last Sunday against the Lions. "He springs like a cat, and he has a heart like a lion."
He's also been called a Tiki Barber "clone" and Rice said he hears comparisons to Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew all the time.
"To be even mentioned with those guys is special," Rice said. "You've got to be humbled."
The reason Rice is being mentioned with the NFL greats is because he has been performing like them. Rice said he studied Payton, Smith and Sanders in the offseason and still goes back for refreshers. He picks apart their game and tries to emulate it.
"I've got my own little style, but if you watch, I try to put a mixture of them all in," he said.
He idolizes Payton's work ethic and his passion for the game. He loves the way Smith "ran behind his pads," and followed his blocks, fighting for every inch. He admires the way Sanders was a risk-taker, often dancing in the backfield or running in the wrong direction to elude tacklers.
And of course, all of them had wicked moves, a killer stiff-arm and enough speed to make defenders an afterthought.
"I figure I'm Barry in the open field and between the tackles I try to be like Emmitt," Rice said. "My definition of a running back is you've got to have some elusiveness, you've got to make guys miss, you've got to be tough and you have to take risks at times. You've got to be willing to do it all and maintain your game at the same time."
Looking at some of Rice's highlights this season, one can see flashes of Rice's predecessors.
There was the Ravens' first game against the Bengals, in which Rice took a short pass and broke through three defenders while keeping his balance by putting his hand on the ground for a 48-yard touchdown.
Then there was the pair of stiff arms Rice laid on two Minnesota defenders en route to a 22-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings.
And who could forget the play against the Broncos when Joe Flacco found Rice as he was getting sacked? Rice danced around several defenders and turned what could have been a 5-yard loss into a 10-yard gain.
Most recently against the Lions, Rice broke a 52-yard scamper in the first quarter and 59-yard touchdown run in the fourth in which he broke through two tackles and ran past another.
But the play Rice is most proud of is his 44-yard fourth-down reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which may have saved the Ravens' season.
"He's getting better and better each day," Flacco said. "He's going to continue to get better. I saw it last summer, and last year you saw it. You knew Ray was going to be good. It was just a matter of getting him in the offense and getting him comfortable with what we're doing and making sure he's going out there and playing confidently."
Heading into Sunday's game against the Bears, Rice is second in the NFL in total yardage to Tennessee's Chris Johnson and leads all NFL running back in receiving yardage. Rice is averaging more than 50 yards per game through the air. He faces a Bears defense ranked No. 24 in the NFL against the run on Sunday.
"Great football player," Chicago head coach Lovie Smith said. "You talk about an unsung guy more and more people are starting to notice. But you [saw] that last week, of course, impressive runs by him, breaks tackles, good speed, great vision – you know, great receiver, I'll say it. I could talk about him the rest of the day."
Perhaps scariest for opposing NFL defensive coordinators is that Rice's coaches say he's still scratching the surface of what he can become.
"He's getting stronger as the season goes on," head coach John Harbaugh said.