The second part of our Ravens 2009 Season Review coverage breaks down the Running Backs. With Cam Cameron’s offensive scheme of continuing to mold Joe Flacco into an elite franchise quarterback, the Raven relied heavily on their running game throughout the 2009 season. What better place to start than the star of the group, Ray Rice.
Ray Rice – In just his second year out of Rutgers, Ray Rice was an immediate impact player for the Ravens offense. As Expatriate noted in his Wide Receiver review, Rice led the Ravens in receptions with 78. Early in the season he was Mr. Reliable for Joe Flacco when no one was open down field. The Ravens began to gain incredibly amounts of yards from scrimmage when Flacco would dump the ball off to Rice and fans would just watch him do his thing. His low center of gravity and quick bursts of speed always produced at least a chance that he would break one loose. For a guy that didn’t see the end zone at all last season, Rice was quite an impact player in 2009. He rushed for 1,339 yards and ran the ball in 7 times while also receiving a touchdown pass too. I guess if you want one word sum up Rice’s sophomore season it would have to be “overachieved.” I hope in 2010 he’s still a vital part of the offense, but with Flacco’s development I would hope that receivers get more of a chance down field than someone in the back field.
Willis McGahee – Going into training camp there was a lot of speculation as to who would win the starting job. Although it was clear early on that Rice had beaten out McGahee for the role and Willis handed it over in humble fashion. McGahee was only brought in for certain situations, usually after a 50+ yard burst from Rice. But his numbers, particularly his touchdowns, might have you second guessing the starter. For much of the 2009 season it seemed as though Ray Rice would march the Ravens down field and Willis would put the ball into the end zone. I always thought Harbs had him on his fantasy team. McGahee finished the season with 12 TDs, and actually led the NFL in touchdowns after the first three weeks of play with six. Willis struggled against Indianapolis when Baltimore failed to convert a first and goal into a touchdown with three straight running plays. While his future with Baltimore is uncertain, I tend to the think that if the price is right he’ll be back in Baltimore as a quality number two.
Le’Ron McClain – Perhaps I should have given the humble title to this guy. Here’s a guy that had 232 carries for 902 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in 2008 and was limited to just 46 attempts for 180 yards this season. McClain is my kind of running back, a bruiser that pounds the ball up the middle of the field. Reminds me of the glory days with Jamal Lewis. Le’Ron did return to the Pro Bowl this season, but did so as a Full Back when the Ravens lost Lorenzo Neal. McClain was never upset about his role as FB, instead he put on some nasty blocks for the guys up front and did his job well enough to put Ray Rice into the NFL’s All Star Game too. He’s a versatile running back who plays like a Raven all around.
Assuming Baltimore doesn’t cut Willis McGahee, this running back group may be the same in 2010. It’s not the part of the offense that needs improvement though. When Flacco advances enough to throw across the middle of the field the running backs role will change, but 2009 showed fans that they can carry the team if necessary.