Here is a question that the Ravens will have to answer in the coming weeks: Will they be comfortable going into the season without an experienced backup behind Ray Rice?
Currently, the three top guys behind Rice on the running back depth chart – second-year players Anthony Allen and Damien Berry and rookie third-round pick Bernard Pierce – will enter training camp with three combined NFL carries. All of those belong to Allen, who carried the ball three times for eight yards in the Ravens’ blowout victory over theSt. Louis Rams in Week Three.
The Ravens also will sign with rookie free agent Bobby Rainey, who is Western Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher. But the fact remains, they are extremely thin in terms of experience behind Rice, and that looms even larger this offseason with Rice expected to sit out mini-camps as his agent tries to negotiate a long-term contract extension with the Ravens.
The Ravens had a lot of trust in Ricky Williams last year to get the key yard on third-and-short, to help run out the clock in the fourth quarter and to hold onto the ball and keep the chains moving with Rice on the sidelines taking a breather.
His retirement was a disappointment for team officials who thought he was a good fit in his current role. Ravens’ officials have spoken highly of Allen and his readiness to assume a greater role and they obviously wouldn’t have traded up for Pierce if they didn’t think he’d be a key contributor.
But it’s still hard to imagine the Ravens not adding a veteran rusher who has been through the wars. While they don’t have much money to spend, there is plenty available on the free agent market.
Long-time Ravens’ nemesis Cedric Benson, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, probably heads the list but he clearly wouldn’t be satisfied with only getting a couple of carries per game and he’d also cost a little more than some of the others.
Ryan Grant (Green Bay Packers) would be a decent fit, and so would Joseph Addai (Indianapolis Colts) assuming he’s healthy. Addai hasn’t been reliable in recent seasons because of injuries, but you have to figure playing a reserve role could keep him healthy and prolong his career.
Other available running backs include Jackie Battle (Kansas City Chiefs), Ronnie Brown (Philadelphia Eagles), Justin Forsett (Seattle Seahawks), Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Tim Hightower (Washington Redskins), Thomas Jones (Chiefs), Jerious Norwood (Atlanta Falcons), LaDainian Tomlinson (New York Jets), Derrick Ward (Houston Texans) and Cadillac Williams (Rams).
As I said, there is plenty of available. Now, it’s up the Ravens to decide if a veteran running back is a legitimate need or a luxury.