Who will pick up the slack for the Ravens while running back Ray Rice is suspended the first two games? Don’t be surprised if the Ravens use a running-back-by- committee system, shuttling backs in and out, with the coaching staff looking for a hot hand.
“We have a lot of depth at running back,” said coach John Harbaugh. “We’ll just see how it plays out with the competition in there. I like our guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do.”
With training camp just getting started, Bernard Pierce is the favorite to get the most touches while Rice serves his punishment. Pierce is coming off shoulder surgery and a disappointing 2013 season. But Pierce is healthy again, and after his strong rookie season in 2012, coach John Harbaugh knows what Pierce can do. Pierce’s downhill, one-cut running style also fits offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking system.
“I’m very confident in Bernard,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve always liked Bernard. He’s a heck of a player. He’s worked very hard, he’s 217 pounds, he’s in the best shape of his life. He looked good out here the last couple of days. We’ll know more by Tuesday once we get the pads on and seeing him move with the pads and how the shoulder holds up – that’ll be important.”
Two other backs will push Pierce for carries – Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. Forsett is a five-year NFL vet with speed to break long runs. He had his best season (619 yards) with the Seahawks in 2009.
Taliaferro is making a big jump from Coastal Carolina to the NFL, but he has a physical running style and good hands as a pass receiver. The Ravens liked Taliaferro well enough to draft him in the fourth run, and with Rice coming off a poor 2103 season, the Ravens will take a long look at Taliaferro as their possible featured back of the future.
How much the Ravens miss Rice during his suspension will depend largely on how well Pierce, Forsett, or Taliaferro capitalize on this opportunity.