Bigger Rice primed for larger role

OWINGS MILLS -- Flexing his right biceps while cradling the football tightly against his body as a linebacker gave chase, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice accelerated into the open field before arriving at his destination. Dashing into the end zone several yards ahead of the defense during a June minicamp, Rice hustled back to the huddle for the next play.

Then, he busted up the middle for another long gain on the ensuing play.

Besides the explosiveness displayed by the second-year runner, the diminutive former Rutgers star's upper body is noticeably bigger than his rookie season after spending the entire offseason in an NFL weight room.

Sporting a new tattoo emblazoned across his forearm that reads, "CHOSEN ONE," Rice also sported a Mohawk haircut during minicamps with the image of a bull shaved into the side of his head.

The changes to his appearance underscores the powerful impression Rice has been making on the football field.

"I actually want to run into some people," said Rice, who has bulked up to 207 pounds from a playing weight of 202 pounds last season. "I was a between-the-tackles guy at Rutgers. I don't see why I can't do that here and add more to my game. Running between the tackles feels comfortable to me.

"I feel good out there. I definitely took advantage of this offseason by being here, and I'm looking forward to expanding my role. I feel like a more complete player as far as running, catching and blocking."

Between Rice's progress in terms of adding size to absorb punishment and former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee missing the majority of the minicamps while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, Rice took most of the carries with the first-team offense.

And Rice is expected to retain that status when20training camp opens this week, at least for the time being, with McGahee conceding that Rice has earned the right to begin camp as the starter.

"Obviously, he has to do it on game day," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said of Rice. "He's taking the next step in terms of the preparation and the work that he needs to do in the weight room and in our conditioning program and the way he practices. We had a major emphasis on finishing runs, and Ray is a guy who can be a finisher for us."

At the heart of Rice's power move up the depth chart is how he has retained his speed and agility while adding size, which could translate into improved durability after being forced to miss three games at the end of last season due to a nagging lower-leg injury.

"He's a little bigger, and he's actually leaner, faster, quicker," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And he's in great shape. He looked good."

Rice rushed for 454 yards on 107 carries last season to finish third on the team in rushing behind Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain and McGahee. And Rice averaged an impressive 4.2 yards per carry.

Operating as a third-down back, Rice also finished fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 273 yards.

Now, he's looking to build upon last year's encouraging start to his NFL career.

"I think I'll definitely play more this year," Rice said. "If my opportunity rises up, I'm going to take advantage of it.

"I know I have a definite third-down role, but I can be effective on first and second downs, too. I can get out of the backfield and line up wide and I can get those draws and screens to throw the defense off."

Rice has been concentrating particularly on nutrition and adding strength under the watchful eye of the Ravens' strength and conditioning staff.

Rice haunted the weight room at the Ravens' training complex for several months since the season ended.

The most obvious change is in Rice's arms, chest and shoulders, which are more defined and imposing than last year. However, the key for a running back is how much power they can generate with their legs.

"That's what I've been working on, getting my balance right," Rice said. "Being here helped me out so much. You force yourself to lift weights and do the things you need to do. I was a pretty strong guy in college, too, as far as my core strength, benching and squatting.

"Now that my leg is better, I've been able to squat again and do leg presses. I think that's where my explosiveness came back. It's total body training. I'm just as fast. My speed hasn't gone anywhere. As far as my burst, I definitely feel a lot quicker."

The prominent new tattoo goes with the one on Rice's right arm that lists the names of all of his brothers and sisters enclosed by the words "Only God Understands."

On his left arm, Rice has a tattoo of two hands clasped in prayer. Calling himself the "Chosen One" makes quite a statement, too.

"You want to live up to that," said Rice, who's Rutgers' all-time leading rusher with 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns. "You want to be gifted with everything. I can't wait for the season to start. I know this offseason I really played fast, so it should be a different season for me this year."

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