Rice drawing high marks for play

OWINGS MILLS -- During six games where consistency proved to be an elusive trait for the Baltimore Ravens, versatile running back Ray Rice was a major exception to that rule.   As the Ravens return to work today following their bye, Rice has emerged as the NFL leader in total yards from scrimmage.

With 766 combined rushing and receiving yards, Rice ranks 44 yards ahead of Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

"It's just hard work," Rice said. "It definitely feels good to know that your hard work is paying off. The offensive line always does a great job. Once I get the ball in my hands, I just feel like I've been able to make plays.

"And it feels good to know that you're doing that to help your team. Leading in yards from scrimmage, it would feel better if we won those games."

Mired in a three-game losing streak, the Ravens (3-3) resume preparing today for their next opponent, the undefeated Denver Broncos (6-0), on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Rice is expected to be a big part of the game plan going forward as he leads the Ravens with 441 rushing yards on 73 carries and 33 receptions.

He ranks second on the team with 325 receiving yards, catching one touchdown.

"I want to be known as not just a guy that can run the ball, I want to be known as an all-purpose back," Rice said. "That's where most of my yards will come from. My thing at the end of the game is, I want to see how many total yards I have because I'm sure I'll be able to catch the ball or run between the tackles, do different things when the ball is in my hands.

"At the end of the day, my position is a running back. That feels good to know that when the ball is in your hand, you're able to do something with it."

Too quick for most linebackers to deal with in the open field, Rice is averaging six yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception.

And the 5-foot-8, 210-pounder leads the NFL with an average of 127.7 total yards per game.

"They get the best out of you here," Rice said. "I think it's just showing up. It's a true testament of hard work. The game has slowed down for me enough where coach will let me do certain things that he knows I'm going to make a play."

Rice's development has kept former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee sidelined for the majority of the past three games.

Rice has managed to keep his feet after the first hit, maintaining his balance by any means necessary, including using his hand to push himself off the ground to stay afoot.

Despite his lack of ideal size, Rice has been durable. He rarely takes a full shot.

"I think being as short as I am, you've got to keep your balance," he said. "I wouldn't call it a move. I would just call it a knack for wanting to stay up and get more yards.

"When you see that green grass ahead of you, something has to keep you up, whether it's the power in your legs or using a little bit of your hands to keep going."

Although the Ravens were extremely high on the diminutive former Rutgers star when they drafted him in the second round last year, he has produced even more than they initially expected him to.

"We were hopeful that we'd see this Ray Rice, but Ray's one of those guys, he's got as good an attitude as any player, " Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I'll admit this: He's probably a little more talented than maybe we even thought when we drafted him."

Rice is averaging 73.5 rushing yards and 54.2 receiving yards per game.

In a 33-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Rice rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. And he caught 10 passes for 117 yards, including a 63-yard gain.

The Ravens intend to make the most out of Rice as an offensive weapon.

"To get him the ball in the passing game, he made some big plays," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Ray's done a great job all year for us, and he's going to continue to do that."

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