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The Competition: Backfield


In the coming weeks, will offer previews of each position, focusing on who will be in the thick of the competition come training camp. Today, the running backs and fullbacks take the spotlight.


The Ravens' running back position is pretty clear-cut at the top, but plotting the depth chart behind incumbent starter Willis McGahee is no easy task.

Baltimore boasts a solid stable of backs after their Pro Bowl workhorse, all of whom bring their own talents to the table. With McGahee sitting out many of the voluntary practices, new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has spent the offseason building a foundation of knowledge for the other young prospects.

After an initial inspection of his depth in the backfield, Cameron is looking forward to the training camp battle.

"I don't think you can have too many quality running backs," said the coordinator. "I think you just look around the league, and you're going to need at least two, maybe three or four."

Just who that No. 2 will be remains to be seen. The Ravens currently have big expectations for diminutive second-round draft pick Ray Rice.

Rice displayed solid hands in the receiving game in practices, something he definitely was not known for as an annual 1,000-yard rusher at Rutgers.

"Basically, for the most part – and it was smart on their part – they handed him the football and just let him run the football," Cameron said of the Scarlet Knights. "But we split him out, and he showed that he can develop into a receiver on the perimeter. We've seen glimpses of it the last couple months."

The Ravens also used their final pick of April's selection meeting on Oklahoma's Allen Patrick, an aggressive runner that backed up current NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson for two years before stepping into a starting role.

Cameron has also been impressed with third-year backs Cory Ross and P.J. Daniels. The duo joined Baltimore in 2006, but each has offered mixed results in the past.

Ross has been a critical stand-in for the Ravens at both kick returner and running back after making the active roster as an undrafted rookie free agent. Daniels, on the other hand, toiled on the sidelines his entire first season as an inactive member of the 53-man roster. A hamstring injury suffered in training camp last year shelved Daniels on Injured Reserve.

Still, Cameron said Ross and Daniels' dedication to the Ravens' offseason conditioning program - and their work on the field - has put them both squarely in the mix.

"No one has worked harder than Cory Ross or P.J. Daniels," Cameron said. "There isn't a guy in this building who has worked harder than those two, so the competition is going to be real."

At fullback, the Ravens have 260-pound mauler Le'Ron McClain, who paved the way to many of McGahee's 1,207 rushing yards last season. Cameron thinks McClain could carry the ball this year, as well.


"We do have a unique situation where I think Le'Ron [McClain] is an awfully good runner as well," he noted. "That's going to give us some flexibility, which is a plus. A lot of teams don't have a fullback that they would have confidence being a runner."

Special teams stalwart Justin Green (251 pounds) previously backed up McClain and will be fighting to back him up in the future with converted tight end Jake Nordin.

Here is a breakdown of the Ravens' backfield: RB Willis McGahee

2007:McGahee's initial season in Charm City was a career year. He earned his first Pro Bowl after finishing with 1,207 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The versatile threat also was a factor in the receiving game, catching a career high with 43 receptions for 231 yards and a score.

Forecast:McGahee will keep the reins of the offense, as Cameron is known for utilizing backs such as him in many different ways. Don't be surprised if he splits out of the backfield at times and lines up at wideout.

RB Cory Ross

2007:Ross notched nine kickoff returns for a 16.4-yard average and averaged 7.2 yards on five punt returns, but his breakout moment came when he and Musa Smith subbed for McGahee in the season finale. Ross made the most of 12 rushes against the Pittsburgh Steelers, totaling 72 yards and a 32-yard touchdown scamper.

Forecast:The tough runner has value on special teams, which he's tried to prove to new special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg in minicamps, and as depth in the backfield. He's got the most experience of any of the backups.

RB P.J. Daniels

2007:Daniels was surely disappointed when a pesky hamstring injury landed him on Injured Reserve for the entire 2007 campaign. The former fifth-round draft pick hasn't seen action in any games yet.

Forecast:Throughout the offseason, Daniels has been a mainstay at Ravens headquarters. He has said he feels as healthy as he's ever been, and it's showed on the practice field. Daniels has been a quick and determined runner, and is out to establish that this is the year he can be an asset.

RB Ray Rice

2007:As one of the featured weapons at Rutgers, Rice was spectacular. A three-year career saw him become the all-time leading rusher at Rutgers with 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns on 910 carries. As a junior in 2007, he led the league and set Big East and school records with 2,012 yards on 380 carries (5.3-yard average), adding 24 touchdowns.

Forecast:Rice shone in the Ravens' three-day rookie camp, where he was able to display improved pass-catching skills. The running talent was certainly evident. As a grinding runner with a low pad level, he could be a good foil for McGahee.

RB Allen Patrick

2007:Once he had a chance to be the guy at Oklahoma, Patrick started 12 of 13 games as a senior, collecting 1,009 yards with eight touchdowns on 173 carries (5.8-yard average). He also proved to be reliable, as he only turned the ball over twice on three fumbles.

Forecast:Patrick must make an impact on special teams to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but he could also be a great candidate for the practice squad. He dealt with a strained hamstring through many of the later minicamps, so training camp is crucial for the rookie.

FB Le'Ron McClain

2007:McClain played in all 16 games last year, starting 11 contests and helping pave the way to 1,797 team rushing yards and 11 scores. The 137th-overall selection in the 2007 draft was immediately a factor in front of McGahee.

Forecast:Even though he missed many of the early camps because he was attending classes at the University of Alabama, McClain worked hard to get back into shape upon his return to Owings Mills, Md. Look for him to have an expanded role in training camp, getting more involved in the offense.

FB Justin Green

2007:Green had a big year on special teams last season, posting a career-high 19 tackles. He played in all 16 contests.

Forecast:In his fourth season, Green hopes to continue to improve his special teams development, while impressing coaches on offense. He has been another constant devotee at the Ravens' offseason conditioning program.

FB Jake Nordin

2007:Nordin spent nearly the entire 2007 campaign on and off the Ravens' practice squad, seeing action in the season finale on special teams at tight end.

Forecast:A number switch (from No. 86 to 44) signified a recent position switch, and Nordin is now trying to learn the nuances of a fullback. A hard worker with a hard nose, he has the tools, and has been active in the offense, showing decent hands early.

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