Ray, Kyle, Bernard, Lorenzo, and Justin. The Raven Running Back Situation.

Featured, Sports and Bets — August 26, 2014 at 11:47 pm by

We are less than two weeks away from the pro football games counting for real and the Ravens are at an organizational crossroads.  As a team they’ve dumped a lot of money into several key positions, signing several veterans who were key players during the team’s five-year playoff run that culminated with the team’s second Super Bowl.  Into this mix of highly paid and talented players, the Ravens have infused a lot of cheap and young talent with the hope that the veteran/youth mix will put the organization back on top of the AFC North.  After the Super Bowl win at the end of the 2013 season, the Ravens let a lot of veterans walk, but the move was by no means a total tear-down.  The Ravens expected to win last year and when it didn’t happen, they re-tooled further, adding more experience to the offensive side and drafting three highly regarded defensive players they may start immediately, or in the least ,play significant roles.  A lot of times, teams are categorized as “young”, or “veteran” squads.  The Ravens are a blend, and if all goes to plan, the veterans will stay healthy while the youngsters quickly develop for peak team performance in November and December.  As fans, we are obviously hoping this plan comes to fruition.

The running back position is a nice microcosm of this team’s overall building philosophy.  Ray Rice is the highly paid star.  Justin Forsett is a veteran who was brought in to add depth and experience in the wake of Rice’s two game suspension.  Bernard Pierce is young, but he’s a Super Bowl champ and has been a vital role player in the Ravens’ offense; he’s a vet.  The youth infusions go by the names of Lorenzo Taliaferro, a rookie who was drafted in the fourth round, and Kyle Juszczyk, a second year fullback who played mostly special teams last year.  The unit is one of the team’s deepest positions, and that’s a good thing, considering the running game was deplorable last year and considering the guy who has starred at the position in the past is coming off of a violent and embarrassing offseason that landed him a two game suspension for allegedly smacking his wife.  This veteran/youngster mix is full of talent, accomplishments, and upside.  We’ll break each player down and carve out what we think their roles will be during the 2014-15 season.

Ray Rice- Ray’s actions this offseason were inexcusable.  The images of him dragging his now wife out of an elevator were both shocking and revolting.  The Ravens handled the situation horribly, holding an awkward press conference and then allowing their PR man to write a ridiculous and patronizing blog article that  seemingly swept the issue under their own rug.  Personally, I thought the NFL should have suspended him for at least 8 games, but their decision is their decision and Rice will be ready to roll in week three.  Through all the bullshit that Ray brought upon himself, the Ravens organization., and its fan base, the football world understandably forgot how prolific a player Rice has been.  Rice has reached the 2000 yard from scrimmage mark twice in his career and he has 369 catches in just six years.  He has rushed for at least 1100 yards every year he has been a starter. Dude can play ball.  However, last year was Rice’s worst as a pro.  He was hampered by injuries all season and there have been grumblings that his head got too damn big for his helmet.  Throw in the fact that his o-line sucked, and 2013-14 was a forgettable campaign.  We’re throwing it out as an aberration and we think the Ravens are too. When Rice comes back in Week Three, he’ll be the starter and he’ll get the bulk of the work.  He’s lost weight and he looks like his old elusive self in the preseason. He’s broken tackles his whole career, he’s an extremely talented receiver, and he can run inside the tackles and out.  Plus, Rice ran several zone-blocked, one-cut plays in college at Rutgers.  He was pretty good back then too.  His skill set fits this system.  He may get spelled more by Pierce and Taliaferro, but I expect 1200-1400 total yards and 7-10 TDs from Rice.  All predicated on him staying healthy, of course.

Bernard Pierce- I like Bernard Pierce, I think he’s a great change of pace back and he’s got obvious talent, but I’m not on the “Pierce is taking this starting job and running away with it”, bandwagon.  He’s just not as good as Rice.  Pierce struggled along with Ray last year, it wasn’t like he separated himself from the pack then, and I can’t figure why everyone thinks he’s going to do that now.  His one-cut running style does fit Kubiak scheme, but Pierce isn’t a particularly shifty runner and he doesn’t seem to break a lot of tackles.  He did catch twenty balls last year, and he is a fine running back, but ultimately if Rice is healthy, Rice is going to get more snaps, period.  Look for Bernard to start in weeks one and two, but he’ll share time with Taliaferro and Forsett.  I look for 500-600 total yards and a handful of TDs this year.

Lorenzo Taliaferro-  I think this guy, not Pierce, is the true heir apparent to Rice.  Taliaferro runs hard and he runs downhill fast after finding his one cut and going.  He’s a bruiser and he fits the Kubiak zone scheme well.  At Coastal Carolina last year, Lorenzo ran for over 1,700 yards and scored 29 total touchdowns.  He also caught 23 passes, which could mean that he has decent hands.  He will play during Rice’s absence, he ran with the first unit Saturday night as soon as Pierce went down.  Taliaferro has already impressed with his pass blocking ability and if Pierce gets hurt, Taliaferro will have no problem steeping into his role; whether it’s as the primary back-up or the starter.  I can see Taliaferro getting 3-5 carries when Rice is playing and I can see him carving out a larger role for himself as the season grinds on.

Justin Forsett-  Forsett has made a nice little career out of being a backup and a third down back.  He’s got some quicks and some elusiveness ,and he can catch the rock out of the backfield.  He looked great early on in training camp and he had a few nice runs in last week’s preseason game.  But Forsett has fumbled a few times this preseason and that’s not a good thing for a veteran journeyman.  Regardless, Forsett will get to suit up for at least two weeks while Ray Rice serves his suspension.  If Pierce can’t go either during those first two weeks, the Ravens can still feel pretty good with a Forsett and Taliaferro 1-2 punch.  Forsett’s experience is a big plus and he also is plenty good at pass blocking.  But he’s gotta hang onto the rock to stick around and he may not be able to stay anyway once Rice comes back.  (Unless he plays lights out special teams.)  Of course, a roster spot is always just an injury away, so someone with Forsett’s experience and skill level is always good to have around.

Kyle Juszczyk-  This second year fullback is going to have a breakout season.  It’s been  pretty obvious in the preseason that Gary Kubiak want to get Kyle the ball.  Juszczyk has looked tremendous catching the ball coming out of the backfield and he’s looked vastly improved as a run blocker.  Last year in camp, Kyle got dominated in a goal line drill and Vonta Leech was signed three days later.  There have been no such incidents this year and Juszczyk looks ready to roll.  He played tight end, H-back, and slot receiver at Harvard and he finished his college career with over 125 catches.  He can catch. The way it looks in preseason, this kid may catch 50 balls this year in the Ravens’ offense.  Kubiak has lined him up all over the field, putting him in motion and even splitting him out wide in some formations.  He’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers because of his speed and for D-Backs because of his size.  I have a feeling that this is going to end up being a throw-first offense and Kyle Juszczyk is going to be a big reason why.


Countin’ down the days…..Go Ravens!


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