Oct 13, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) runs with the ball in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens: First Look at the 2014 Roster – Running Backs

Baltimore Ravens roster projections are beginning to appear in a variety of football websites, including here at The Baltimore Wire where we are taking a logical process, breaking down the team over a series of articles. This today is the third in this series. The first article gives an overview of this process and can be found HERE, with the second article on quarterbacks HERE.

On our projected 53-man roster so far are the three personnel from the kicking game and QBs Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor. Today we will add four running backs. Many rosters may include five, but for our purposes on a team that will be very tight-end oriented, we are going to eventually put four, instead of three, in that category.

When the rushing game of the Baltimore Ravens is discussed these days, it is impossible to do so without a long section on the Ray Rice saga. I am going to seek to write the shortest possible paragraph on that, being interested in what happens on the field of play. But stupidity in places like casinos and nightclubs can have a bearing on the field of play – in this case whether or not he will be there – on the field – at the beginning of the season.

Legal proceedings of the past week have concluded positively for Rice, and he will not be dealing with time away relative to legal problems. But it is yet to be determined as to what possible suspension might come down from the Commissioner. For our purposes today, let us presume that Ray Rice will be playing football at the beginning of the season.

So what kind of running game can be put together for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014? Among the worst in the league last year, there is a lot of room for improvement. Was it more the fault of an ineffective front line, or were the problems due to the injuries and poor play of the backs? There is frankly plenty of blame to go around.

Have the Ravens sufficiently addressed this issue with newly-added personnel? Some of the “experts” think not … maybe even most of them. Elliott Harrison of NFL.com – who graded the Ravens offseason as 8th best in the league – held back nothing and was not at all ambiguous in saying,

“The run game is still terrible, and, while Ray Rice might be on track to potentially having an aggravated assault charge against him dismissed, his availability could still be in question.”

Ray Rice – Though far from a statement of assured confidence, let us project that Rice will be the primary back for the Ravens in 2014 and that he will return to something at least approaching earlier form. It may be too much to say that “where Rice goes, the Ravens go.” But there are few other issues as critical for team success.

Having been around for so long, it is sometimes surprising to read that he is actually only age 27. But it is common knowledge that declining performance can fall upon a back rather quickly from the wear and tear of the game. The hip injury suffered early in the season had, in my view, more to do with 2013 disasters than is generally admitted. Presumably that is fully cleared and Rice will be reporting again at the lower weight of the past (a 15-pound difference). The Super Bowl euphoria and offseason is a mere memory of the distant past, and Rice will likely enter this season on a mission to regain his stature both on the field and in the Baltimore community.

Lorenzo Taliaferro – I am looking for the Baltimore Ravens’ fourth-round pick to not only make the team but contribute significantly. At 6-2, 230, he is a big back with speed and a one-cut downhill approach. The Coastal Carolina, Big South Offensive Player of the Year has a number of other tools: he can catch and run, he blocks well, and he may contribute well also on special teams. Taliaferro had made an excellent first impression and the Ravens are clearly intrigued with his raw athleticism and potential.  <UPDATE: Within an hour of posting this article, news breaks that Taliaferro has been arrested for two misdemeanors. More alcohol-induced problems!>

Justin Forsett over Bernard Pierce – It has been stated that Pierce will not be ready to practice until the beginning of camp due to shoulder surgery recovery. After many good contributions on the 2012 squad, Pierce never stepped up last year when the opportunity was present. Like Rice, he had injuries; like Rice, he was running behind the suspect line of the 2013 Ravens. All of the same questions surface here as well – was he insufficient, or was the line just that bad?  And not being able to prepare well in this offseason leads me to reluctantly give the edge to the veteran Justin Forsett.

Forsett is the oldest and the smallest of the seven backs on the current roster. In a five-year career, he has 1,692 yards on 347 carries. Forsett is also familiar with the Kubiak system where he played in 2012. Pierce is the better choice if able; I simply doubt his ability to be ready.

Also on the current large roster is Shaun Chapas, a 26-year-old back who is 6-2, 244. He was a seventh-round pick by the Cowboys in 2011. He played only briefly for them that season, mostly being on the practice squad, which he has also been for the Lions and Jaguars. This is a depth move by the Ravens, as he was signed last week … but he is down too deep to see making it without some bad events transpiring up the ladder from him.

Fullback – Kyle Juszczyk – If for no other reason, Juszczyk will make the team because the Ravens love to have people with difficult names to spell – simply to drive sports writers crazy. He is the only fullback listed on the roster.

The Harvard grad, who was picked in the fourth round of the draft, had a learning season in 2013. He struggled in camp with lead blocking, and the Ravens chose to bring back Vonta Leach. But Leach is now gone and Juszczyk will be expected to handle this role in 2014.

Juszczyk has all the skills, and he is able to handle pass assignments as well. He distinguished himself on special teams as a lead blocker for Jacoby Jones and in making many special teams tackles.

Summary: So, we add to the growing projected roster a total of three halfbacks and a fullback – Ray Rice, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, and Kyle Juszezyk.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens Lorenzo Taliaferro Ray Rice

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