Rice facing challenge of returning to top form

Rice facing challenge of returning to top form
December 31, 2013, 8:15 am
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Ravens clean out lockers, some for final time

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at Soldier Field.

(Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Ray Rice knows this is a key offseason for him. The 2013 season was a huge disappointment. He ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards with just 660 yards, and averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. That is a severe decline for Rice, who had averaged 1,267 yards and 4.6 yards per carry the previous four seasons.

“We’ve always been able to run the ball, so I’m sure that will be an offseason study to get things back in the run game to help Joe (Flacco) out in the passing game as well,” Rice said Monday, as the Ravens were packing their bags. “We’ll get back to that. I know running the ball is something that we’re good at and we’re capable of doing. We just have to work at it.”

Hard work is something Rice is looking forward to his offseason, once his hip injury heals with prolonged rest that was impossible during the season. Rice has vowed to return for training camp in the best shape of his career. Rice will turn 27 years old next month, and his performance this season is creating talk that he is no longer an elite back.

Before carrying the ball just 214 times this season, Rice had at least 250 rushing attempts the previous four seasons. However, Rice does not believe he is worn down, or starting to decline.

[RELATED: Should Joe Flacco get surgery this offseason?]

“The premier back stuff is something that you will write about, but for me, it’s just getting healthy and knowing the capable player that I’m able to be,” Rice said “As far as being a premier back, I’ve proved that over the years. I don’t think I need to go out there and prove that I’m a premier back. I just need to go out there and get healthy.”

Without question, offensive line issues and injuries contributed to Rice’s disappointing season. But for the Ravens to return to the postseason in 2014, they could use Rice being the running threat he used to be.

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