Small, Tough and 'Our Kind of Guy'
Sunday, May 11, 2008
OWINGS MILLS, Md., May 10 -- Craig Ver Steeg felt like a proud father as he listened to the Baltimore Ravens scouts talk about Ray Rice, the standout Rutgers running back, in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft. It was obvious that the qualities that the Ravens saw and loved in the undersize Rice -- toughness, strength, character -- were the same things that Ver Steeg appreciated in Rice in the three years he coached him with the Scarlet Knights.
"He was one of those guys who came to Rutgers when it wasn't fashionable to come to Rutgers," said Ver Steeg, who was Rice's offensive coordinator and position coach for the Scarlet Knights and is now an offensive assistant with Baltimore. "He was a guy that loved to play. He and some others brought a mentality to Rutgers that was a tough, winning, never-give-up mentality that we needed at the time."
That kind of attitude should help Rice fit in nicely with his new teammates. The Ravens were thrilled to get him with the 55th overall pick, with director of college scouting Eric DeCosta saying that Rice was "one of my favorite players in this draft." He was designated as one of Baltimore's "red star" prospects, which means that all of its scouts were in agreement that he personifies a "true Raven."
"I just think he's our kind of guy. . . . That's high character, and he's tough, rough, loves to play football," Coach John Harbaugh said last month. "He's a playmaker, and he's not just a one-play playmaker. He's a durable playmaker."
Rice left Rutgers as the program's all-time leading rusher (4,926 yards), despite playing only three seasons. He carried the ball 910 times, and never missed a game because of injury.
Willis McGahee took 66 percent of Baltimore's carries last season (294 of 446) and rushed for 1,207 yards, fourth in the AFC, and Rice is vying to be his backup. The Ravens parted ways with two veteran running backs in the offseason, opting to not re-sign Musa Smith and terminating Mike Anderson's contract. Rice will also get a look as a returner. He fielded punts during Saturday's practice, along with Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Ronnie Prude and Jim Leonhard (the incumbent returner, Yamon Figurs, sat out with a minor injury).
"I would love to be a spark," Rice said. "I would love to be a guy who gets in the game, and there's not a letdown. I want to be in the game and oh shoot, the defense is on their heels."
Rice is not particularly big; he is listed at 5 feet 8 and 200 pounds. During the first two days of Baltimore's mandatory minicamp, Rice has darted around the field, in black shorts that hang well below his knees. Rice, who has said that he emulates Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, doesn't think that his size will be an issue as he moves into the NFL. Ver Steeg said that the Big East features plenty of big, physical fronts.
"We like the way he runs," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He has a very low center of gravity, so he doesn't take a lot of hits. He mainly delivers a blow instead of taking a blow."
Ravens Notes: There were two separate skirmishes during Saturday morning's practice. During team drills, rookie tackle Oniel Cousins, a third-round pick out of UTEP, and defensive tackle Amon Gordon exchanged punches after a running play. As the two players tussled, the rest of the Ravens rushed over and surrounded them. Most of the coaches stood back and watched -- defensive coordinator Rex Ryan even laughed. Order was restored after a couple of minutes.
Later, Corey Ivy and free agent signee Frank Walker -- two veterans competing for the dime cornerback spot -- mixed it up during a blocking drill and had to be separated, as Ivy screamed, "Don't grab me, man!"
"I think our guys are competitive, they like football, it's going to happen," Harbaugh said of the fights. "I think as they realize the tempo of the practice is going to stay the same, it will probably happen less and less. They're a feisty bunch."
So is the new coach, defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said.
"There was a fight yesterday, and [Harbaugh] shoved somebody in the face so hard to get them out of the pile it was unreal," Pryce said. "I [said], 'You back away from this crazy little man.' He is strong, and he is nuts." . . .
The Ravens are so thin at tight end right now -- Todd Heap is the only veteran who is practicing -- that they are taking a look at two rookie projects: Joe Reitz, who was a four-year starter in basketball at Western Michigan, and Xavier Lee, who was a standout high school quarterback but left Florida State after the Seminoles tried to convert him to tight end.