Errict Rhett is back. But don't try telling him that. He dismisses the notion that he is undergoing a renaissance as a running back for the Baltimore Ravens.
"Despite people saying `Great to see you back,' I never went anywhere," Rhett said. "I'm still the same running back."
For the past two weeks, Rhett has looked like the same running back who rushed for 1,000 yards his first two seasons in the NFL. His back-to-back 100-yard rushing games have injected life into Baltimore's moribund offense. He ranks fifth in the AFC with 214 yards rushing.
"He just runs hard with enthusiasm and with fire," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said. "No one man is going to bring him down."
It has been a long time since Rhett has been that productive on the football field. Until he gained 101 yards on 22 carries against Pittsburgh in the second game of the season, Rhett had not rushed for 100 yards since 1995.
There was a time when Rhett routinely collected 100-yard games. In 1994, after being picked in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rhett rushed for 1,011 yards to earn NFC offensive rookie of the year honors.
He followed that with a career-high 1,207-yard rushing season in 1995. However, a 94-day contract holdout caused him to miss seven games the next season. Rhett ran for just 539 yards that year.
Then in 1997, the Bucs drafted Warrick Dunn and demoted Rhett to backup. Rhett gained only 91 yards on 31 carries that year.
Tampa Bay traded Rhett to Baltimore for a third-round pick in 1998. He started the first two games last season, but then fell out of favor with then-coach Ted Marchibroda. He finished with 180 yards rushing on 44 carries.
"Me and Marchibroda, me and his style didn't click," Rhett said. ". . . God bless him, but there's a new era right here."
Rhett didn't get his opportunity with Billick until starter Priest Holmes was slowed by a knee strain suffered in the season opener against the Rams. Rhett made the most of it. After warming up to the task with a couple of short bursts, he broke free for a 35-yard gain that brought the PSINet Stadium crowd to its feet.
Billick said Monday that regardless of Holmes's status, Rhett is his starter.
"If Priest is able to come back and play, that'll be a nice one-two punch for us," Billick said. "Right now, Errict Rhett is our starter and he's going to remain the starter until such time that his play dictates that we need to play the other guy."
If there is something Rhett does better than grind out yards on the field, it's talk. Always animated, Rhett can be very chatty with opponents as well as his teammates.
"The most important thing I think I bring is the passion for the game, the love of the game, the energy," Rhett said. "I try to change the whole attitude of the offense when I walk in the huddle."
Billick likes the enthusiasm Rhett brings. However, he would like him to temper it a little bit.
"When you get big, tough runs of that nature, where guys are slashing through the line, running [defensive backs] over, then yeah, there's a mentality that carries with it," Billick said.
"The line, the receivers, everybody feels very good about it. So there is an emotional uplift when you have that kind of tough runner. . . . If we can just get him to be quiet while we're calling the play, then we'll be in good shape."