Dating back to the days of Jamal Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens have always been known as a ground and pound football team. Lewis gained 2,066 yards on the ground in 2003.
Ray Rice was the next outstanding Ravens running back going over 1,300 yards twice during his seven-year career in Baltimore. Next up was Justin Forsett who took over in 2014 and led the team with 1,266 yards rushing.
Over the last few years, the Ravens have not been able to develop the running game. Terrence West, Buck Allen, Alex Collins and Kenneth Dixon have all taken turns at jumpstarting the running game. For various reasons, none of them were able to emerge as the feature back.
West has moved on but Allen, Dixon and Collins remain in the mix. Rookies Gus Edwards (Rutgers), Mark Thompson (Florida) and De'Lance Turner (Alcorn State) will be in training camp hoping to do enough to land on the 53-man roster next month.
The running backs coach, Thomas Hammond will be charged with finding someone to become the bell cow back during the preseason. Allen is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
The fourth-year back didn't start any games in 2017, but he posted a career-high 591 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Allen has shown that he is a capable pass catcher throughout his four-year career. He finished last season with 46 receptions, surpassing his previous career high of 45 receptions during his rookie season.
His slashing running style suits the Ravens scheme so he should get a shot to get the bulk of the carries in 2018.
Dixon showed promise as a rookie in 2016. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry as a rookie, finishing with 382 yards and two touchdowns. He was considered to be a contender for the starting job in 2017 before suffering a bucket-handle meniscus tear while working out at Louisiana Tech before training camp. The injury required season-ending surgery.
The third-year back was delighted to be back on the field during OTAs this year.
“It feels amazing to be back. You never know what you take for granted until you lose it. Losing football for a year opened my eyes to a lot of things,” Dixon said, after practice during OTAs. “The knee feels very good. I'm battling some things you have to battle when you get back on the field with flexibility and all those things, but the knee feels totally well and I’m just ready to play.”
Collins is the favorite to take over. He led the Ravens with 972 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season after being claimed from the Seahawks on waivers last September.
After a full off-season with the team and training camp, Collins is primed to have an even better season in 2018. It's likely that Baltimore will feature a three-headed monster that is Allen, Dixon and Collins.