Ravens sign Ricky Williams as Ray Rice's backup
OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens are hoping to manufacture a punishing running game to take the pressure off a passing game in flux, acquiring former Pro Bowl running back Rick Williams on a two-year deal with a maximum value of $4 million.
This is the Ravens' latest move to build a more physical offense having already retained gritty offensive guard Marshal Yanda and signing All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach.
Now, they've landed a powerful former Heisman Trophy winner feared by linebackers as a tackle-busting, compact 5-foot-10, 230 pounder. He'll work in tandem with former Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice as his primary backup.
"He'll take some of the load off of Ray and make him last longer out there," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's a big, physical back that we are going to like around here. I am hoping he makes us a good amount better. I think Ricky is a great addition, and anytime you get a back like that he's going to help your team out.
"I think he's an awesome football player. He's a pretty legit dude. He looks like a big, strong guy and not somebody that I think a lot of people would really want to get in the way of."
Replacing Willis McGahee as the Ravens' backup runner, Williams agreed to a deal with a base value of $2.5 million with an additional $1.5 million of incentives.
He's scheduled to arrive in Baltimore today to take a physical, but isn't expected to play in the Ravens' preseason opener Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams told WQAM radio that he chose Baltimore over the Detroit Lions.
"It was a tough choice for me, but Baltimore is an established team and a winning organization," Williams said. "I'll always be a Dolphin at heart, but I'm excited about this opportunity with the Ravens."
Last season, Williams rushed for 673 yards and two touchdowns for the Miami Dolphins as he split carries with Ronnie Brown.
Two seasons ago, Williams rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I'm an every-down back, so I know I'm going to need to be spelled once in a while," Rice said. "I'm looking forward to working with him. It's a good thing to have a change of pace, so we'll be good to go. I have a lot of respect, especially for his game and what he's been through. How can you forget a Heisman Trophy winner?"
Williams led the NFL with 1,853 yards in 2002 after being traded to the Dolphins from the New Orleans for four draft selections, including a pair of first-round draft picks.
Williams briefly played for Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron when he was the Dolphins' head coach during a 1-15 campaign.
"He gives us a proven playmaker, an outstanding runner, an outstanding receiver and an outstanding pass protector," Cameron said. "I think he has a big-time chance of helping us."
Williams entered the NFL with a lot of acclaim, drafted fifth overall in 1999 by the New Orleans Saints as coach Mike Ditka traded his entire draft pick group to get the San Diego native in addition to first-round and third-round selections the following year.
He has rushed for 9,569 career yards and 68 touchdowns, registering 325 receptions for 2,523 yards and eight touchdowns.
Williams should fit in well as a short-yardage and red-zone option that could also protect Flacco from blitzing linebackers.
"We have to see what kind of shape he is in, but he is familiar with the system," Cameron said. "He knows this system, and he has played extremely well in this system."
However, Williams has a history of failed drug tests for marijuana and has been suspended by the NFL previously. He retired for a season in 2004 after violating the NFL substance-abuse policy, but rushed for 743 yards and six touchdowns one year later.
Williams was diagnosed with social anxiety and borderline personality disorder, which was treated successfully with therapy and medication.
Is Williams a risk to get in trouble again? Not in Cameron's opinion.
"Those are all fair questions, but I think a lot of those things are way, way, way in the past," Cameron said. "My relationship, my experience with him, there is no risk, but we are all human. There is risk with you. There is risk with me.
"There is risk with everybody in here. We are all living and breathing, and we all make mistakes. Ricky is not perfect, but I know he has a great heart and he is a great football player."
Notebook: Cotchery to visit Ravens today, Dickson pulled hamstring
OWINGS MILLS – One day after meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers, veteran free agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is scheduled to visit the Baltimore Ravens today.
Cotchery visited the Steelers and took a physical Monday after being cut last week by the New York Jets.
Now, he's talking with two AFC North rivals and two other NFL teams.
Cotchery didn't pass his exit physical with the Jets upon being released after undergoing offseason back surgery, but has resumed cutting and running and is expected to be ready to play.
Cotchery, 29, caught 41 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns for the Jets last season.
He caught a career-high 82 passes for 1,130 yards in 2007, dropping to 71 catches for 858 yards and five touchdowns in 2008 and 57 catches for 821 yards and three scores two seasons ago.
For his career, Cotchery has registered 358 receptions for 4,514 yards and 18 touchdowns.
DICKSON TO MISS EAGLES GAME: The Ravens' top candidate to replace tight end Todd Heap won't be playing Thursday night in a preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ed Dickson has a pulled hamstring that could keep him out until midway through the preseason.
"He had the best practice he has had since he has been here, he has had a lot of good ones, but then pulled his hamstring," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We will get him back whenever we get him back. Hamstrings can be a little tricky, but he was having an outstanding camp and I am sure we will hopefully get him back for at least two or maybe even three of the preseason games."
With Dickson sidelined, the Ravens will audition Dennis Pitta with the first-string offense.
They also signed veteran tight ends Jonathan Stupar and Kris Wilson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers respectively. They cut rookie safeties Eugene Clifford and Michael Ricks to create roster spots for the tight ends.
Pitta is rebounding from an uneven Saturday practice where he dropped passes. Quarterback Joe Flacco connected with Pitta several times Monday.
"He is really improving," Cameron said. "In my view, offensively, he is the most improved player over Saturday. He was a little hot and cold on Saturday. We challenged him, but I think most importantly, he challenged himself. He was pretty hard on himself after Saturday.
"He came out today and responded. I think Joe lifted him up. I don't know if he was doing it on purpose, but Joe pushed him the ball today because I think Joe has a ton of confidence in him. He wanted to get his confidence level back up, and he was the most improved guy today on offense."
Flacco downplayed it when asked if he was trying to build the confidence of the former fourth-round draft pick from BYU.
"We're going to give Dennis shots," Flacco said. "Dennis is a hell of a player, so is Ed. We've got two tight ends that are great athletes, have great hands. One day means absolutely nothing in the middle of training camp. I mean, do you want to push through it?
"It's really more about how you react to dropping a pass here and there than it has to do with actually dropping that pass in that situation. Everybody's going to drop passes. Everybody's going to deal with adversity. It's kind of how you react to it, and I'm sure that's what it was kind of about today in terms of getting the ball, just seeing what he was going to do with it after he might not have felt too good about Saturday."
KINDLE TO PLAY THURSDAY: One year removed from fracturing his skull in a fall down two flights of stairs and missing his entire rookie season, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle is set to make his NFL debut against another team Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Cleared by neurological specialists to play football again, Kindle has been practicing with no restrictions.
"Absolutely, especially in sub situations and pass-rush situations," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "We want to get him in there and put him on the edge and let him go."
JIMMY SMITH NOT RULED OUT: The Ravens haven't scratched first-round rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith off their list of players who might play against Philadelphia.
Smith has been dealing with a nagging groin injury since last week and increased his activity Monday after taking part on a limited basis Saturday.
"We're being pretty cautious with him still,"Pagano said. "I think he jumped in there and did a little bit of special teams, and got a few reps here and there, but we're making sure we don't push him too hard and have another setback."
CLOSE TO THE VEST: Don't expect Pagano to reveal his more intricate schemes and blitz packages in a meaningless preseason game.
He'll keep some play calls in his playbook.
"We're going to be pretty vanilla," Pagano said."There are some things you definitely don't want to show leading up to your opening game, so you hit it right on the head. We're going to see who can play football.
"We're going to see who can take on a block, get off a block, tackle, make plays in the pass game and so forth. That doesn't mean we're going to sit back and let them shoot fish in a barrel, but there are some things that we'll hold back."
And Pagano will play key veterans sparingly.
"The guys you know about, less," Pagano said."We've got some veteran guys that are getting up there that we need to take care of. Let them knock a little rust off, and then get out. It's really the young guys that you're trying to see what they can do. Whether they play Mike [Vick] or not at quarterback, I don't know.
"They can risk that if they want to risk that. I know a couple years back, they started him and an old coordinator that was here before might have knocked him out of the game I think first or second snap. We know what guys need what as far as a snap count, and then we'll get the young guys in there."
Vick broke his leg in a preseason game against Baltimore when linebacker Adalius Thomas hit him in the open field.
COX ACTIVATED: Long snapper Morgan Cox passed his physical and was activated from the physically unable to perform list after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last December.
"I feel good," Cox said. "I had kind of limited reps. I wasn't full-go quite yet. I got in there as much as I could."
Cox isn't sure if he'll play Thursday.
"That's up to coach," Cox said. "In my mind, yeah, I'm ready to go. I never want to miss a game. I was torn up last year having to watch those last three games. I'm a competitor and I love what I do."
INJURY UPDATE: The following players remain on the physically unable to perform list: defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee surgery), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knee surgeries) and wide receiver David Reed (wrist surgery).
Also not practicing: cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee), center Matt Birk (knee surgery), defensive end Cory Redding (undisclosed), running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed) and wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring).
QUICK HIT: Undrafted rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams continues to impress, beating fifth-round cornerback Chykie Brown for a touchdown catch on an inside route.
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