Ravens pre-camp breakdown: Running back

RavensInsider.com takes a look at the running back position before the organization returns to the team facility for training camp.

After his rookie season in 2008, Ray Rice asserted himself as the organization's top back, carrying the offense on his own accord.

Since 2009, he's ran for over 1,000 yards in each season, and has totaled over 700 receiving yards twice. Rice has been a focal point and the offense and will be moving forward.

Rice has been a three-down back thanks to his receiving ability. But he may see some of those carries cut into in 2013 with the emergence of backup running back Bernard Pierce, who finished 2012 with 535 yards and a touchdown. Pierce has the ability to bounce off of first contact and continue running. Pierce averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the regular season and 5.2 in the postseason. He's a load to bring down and can cause problems as a change-of-pace bruiser in Baltimore's offense.

It's clear what the roles will be for Baltimore's top two backs. Rice will be the starter with Pierce coming in to spell him and to offer a different running style. It's possible Pierce is used more inside the red zone with the opportunity of keeping Rice fresher in games and ultimately fresher during the regular season.

Though Pierce's carries are expected to increase during the 2013 season, Rice will still receive the vast majority of them. In addition, Rice will still act as a third down back due to his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

Pierce's lone weakness is his versatility, or lack thereof, on third down. With the second-year back out of Temple lining up in an I-formation or an ace set on third-and-short situations, defenses can predict without question what's coming. A few times in 2012, Baltimore would line Pierce up on third-and-1 and see him get stuffed short of the first down. If Pierce can prove he's worthy of being an option as a receiver out of the backfield, then he'll have an added dimension to keep opposing defenses off-balanced.

Either way, Baltimore is blessed to have two backs like them. Rice is one of the best backs in the NFL and Pierce is well on his way to becoming one of the league's better backups. The experience he gained a year ago will certainly help moving forward.

The rest of the group

Anthony Allen: Allen carved out a niche, and a 53-man roster spot, with his ability to be a lead blocker on kickoff returns. He helped Jacoby Jones turn into one of the NFL's best return men in 2012 as a result. Allen's a strong back and packs a powerful punch. As a running back, he still has a lot of work to earn playing time.

If Allen can get a running start, he's a tough blocker. But in pass protection, Allen struggles in reading who his target is pre-snap. This led to his release shortly after the 2012 preseason, though the Ravens signed him back to the 53-man roster right before the season started.

Allen displayed good vision during the 2011 preseason, though that disappeared just a year later. Allen was dreadful during the 2012 preseason, which almost put his tenure with the team in jeopardy. Fortunately for Allen, his special teams abilities kept him around on the 53-man roster all season.

Bobby Rainey: Rainey is built like Rice, a short, stocky back with a whole lot of heart, drive and determination. During the 2012 offseason, coach John Harbaugh pointed out that Rainey was someone the Ravens thought highly of. Even so, it seemed like it would be tough for him to make a roster spot.

Rainey made the team, though the organization had second thoughts and put him on the practice squad. He eventually spent the majority of the season on injured reserve. Rainey's biggest battle this training camp will be to unseat Allen for the No. 3 spot. It will be tough to justify keeping four running backs on a 53-man roster, however.

Damien Berry: Spending all of 2012 on injured reserve, Berry has a lot of ground to make up to wind up on the 53-man roster. He displayed some talent during the 2012 offseason but had to miss the end of 2013's minicamp due to legal and personal issues. This could be a make-or-break preseason for Berry.

2013 Predictions

Rice: 248 carries, 1,116 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns; 65 receptions, 566 receiving yards, four touchdowns.

Pierce: 135 carries, 648 rushing yards, three touchdowns; 13 receptions, 91 receiving yards.

Allen: 13 carries, 52 rushing yards.

Rainey: Practice squad

Berry: Not on team.

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