Rice lives up to advance billing

OWINGS MILLS -- Wearing baggy black shorts that draped below his knees and looked big enough to house a hefty offensive tackle, Baltimore Ravens rookie running back Ray Rice scooted around the practice field in constant motion. During a mandatory minicamp that concluded Sunday, Rice displayed proof in advertising about his uncommon quickness and cutting ability.

Although the former Rutgers star is listed at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds on the roster, he's not diminutive in terms of his game or durability. Drafted in the second round last month, Rice is vying to become the primary backup to Willis McGahee.

"That kid can flat-out play," McGahee said. "Man, he's quick."

Rice, who helped trigger the Scarlet Knights' resurgence with a school-record 4,926 career rushing yards and 49 touchdown runs on 910 carries while never missing a game, he proved to be a quick study during his first NFL minicamp.

Rice's speed and ability to change direction were obvious in the open field while assimilating a complicated playbook and adjusting to the increased speed of the game.

"Everything moves so fast," Rice said. "Without pads, you see how fast the defense is moving and how fast the game is that you have to learn. I'm just looking forward to learning quickly and getting into the meeting room and paying attention, and I'll try to do the best that I can.

"I'm adjusting pretty well. I'm picking it up pretty fast. It's definitely a lot more than college, but I think I'm picking it up pretty well."

One year removed from a 2,012-yard season in his third consecutive 1,000-yard campaign, Rice became the 55th overall selection of the draft when Baltimore was unable to land cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Brandon Flowers.

Even though Rice lacks ideal size, he plays with the requisite heart the coaching staff and scouts are seeking. Plus, he was endorsed by offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg, his former offensive coordinator at Rutgers.

"I think he's our kind of guy," coach John Harbaugh said when Baltimore drafted Rice. "That's high character, he's tough, rough and loves to play football. He's from a great family.

"He's a playmaker, and not just a one-play playmaker, but he's a durable playmaker. He's done it for a long time. He had a lot of carries at Rutgers. He's proven."

Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta noted that Rice was labeled a "red-star" prospect, meaning that he was graded as a true Raven by the entire scouting department.

"We like the way he runs," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He has a very low center of gravity, so he doesn't take a lot of hits. He mainly delivers a blow instead of taking a blow."

Rice didn't have the opportunity to take or give out many hits during a series of non-contact drills, but looked strong and was able to dash past defenders in space.

He also caught punts this weekend, and is expected to provide a third-down presence as a receiver out of the backfield during the regular season. That's provided he can edge out Cory Ross and P.J. Daniels on the depth chart.

The Ravens gave Rice a playbook immediately after the draft to begin his development.

"But it's nothing like going into a meeting room and actually going over it with the coaches," Rice said. "You look at it and you can glance and try to study it, but the way they teach it it is totally different."

McGahee led the Ravens with 1,207 rushing yards last season and was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for San Diego Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson.

With a McGahee-Rice tandem, the Ravens would love to recreate offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's succcess in San Diego with Tomlinson and Michael Turner.

For Rice, who said he patterns his game after similarly-sized Jacksonville Jaguars runner Maurice Jones-Drew, it's a lot to take in as he observe's McGahee's practiced moves.

"I just watch him," Rice said. "It's like a dream come true, to have a guy like that in front of you. I'm definitely learning from him and watching the things that he does, from his footwork to how he carries himself. I try to look at him as a role model.

NOTES: An NFL Players Association official said Monday that no date has been set yet for franchise player Terrell Suggs' grievance against the Ravens over whether he should be classified as a defensive end. Suggs was designated with the linebacker franchise tag, which pays $8.065 million. The defensive end tag pays an additional $814,000. ... The agent for undrafted rookie quarterback/tight end Xavier Lee, who tried out for the Ravens this weekend, said he has yet to hear from team officials regarding a contract offer.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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