Dixon’s rise to run­ning back of the fu­ture has to wait

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike Pre­ston

Ken­neth Dixon’s rise to the top of the Ravens depth chart was put on hold Sat­ur­day night.

The rookie run­ning back drafted in the fourth round out of Louisiana Tech suf­fered a torn MCL in the team’s 30-9 win over t he Detroit Lions, and is ex­pected to miss four to six weeks. The Ravens will talk about their “next man up” men­tal­ity be­cause they have three other run­ning backs who are good enough to com­pete for play­ing time, but Dixon was on a path to be­come the team’s run­ning back of the fu­ture.

He was No. 4 on the depth chart when train­ing camp be­gan and was ba­si­cally No. 2 be­hind Justin Forsett en­ter­ing Sat­ur­day’s game. But if you were watch­ing closely, you could see where this was head­ing.

This kid could play, and even though he could re­turn by late Septem­ber, this is a set­back for the Ravens.

“He is a very ma­ture player for his age — just a guy that al­ways has a smile on his face,” coach John Har­baugh said of the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Dixon. “He

al­ways comes to work. He is very ea­ger to learn and he is very elu­sive and very strong. I think he pushed the pile one time, along with some of his team­mates, 5 to 10 yards. He is a hard-run­ning guy. He is a guy that can cre­ate yards on his own.

“He also pass-pro­tects and he catches the ball. He has a chance to be re­ally good.”

Dixon is per­fect for the Ravens’ West Coast of­fense. They have a down­hill run­ning game and Dixon is a no-non­sense run­ning back. He doesn’t juke and shimmy a lot. It’s just one cut, ac­cel­er­ate and gone.

More im­por­tantly, he runs with power, as he did on that rush­ing at­tempt against Detroit on Sat­ur­day night where he was stopped and then car­ried the pile for an­other 4 or 5 yards. Through three pre­sea­son games, he leads the Ravens in rush­ing with 107 yards on 22 car­ries.

“When you see some­body go down in the NFL, it hurts ev­ery­body,” said run­ning back Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North- western High), who was com­pet­ing with Dixon for play­ing time as Forsett’s top backup. “It’s a tough sit­u­a­tion, and you feel for him, but you also have to look at it as an op­por­tu­nity. Me, Justin and Buck [Allen] have to take ad­van­tage and han­dle the load.”

It sounds sim­ple, but it’s not. The Forsett who rushed for 1,266 yards on 235 car­ries un­der then-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Gary Ku­biak hasn’t been the same since he posted those ca­reer num­bers in 2014. Back then, Forsett ran like Dixon.

Last year, Forsett missed the fi­nal six games with a bro­ken right arm. Be­fore then, he had lit­tle ac­cel­er­a­tion and failed to break many tack­les. He has prac­ticed well in train­ing camp, but has only seven car­ries for 11 yards in the pre­sea­son — mostly be­cause of Har­baugh’s hold­ing out starters.

But Dixon had been clos­ing the gap on Forsett. West has had a strong off­sea­son and has played well through­out train­ing camp and in the first three pre­sea­son games, gain­ing 101 yards on 25 car­ries. He has been even more ex­plo­sive than Dixon at times, but the Ravens aren’t to­tally con­fi­dent in him yet.

West had prob­lems off the field dur­ing his two years with the Cleve­land Browns. Even though he has per­formed well, the Ravens aren’t sure how he will han­dle suc­cess if it comes his way.

Allen, in his sec­ond year, played well as a rookie but hasn’t been as sharp this sea­son and is be­hind the Ravens’ other three run­ning backs. The gap be­tween him and a start­ing role has grown big­ger with West and Dixon on the ros­ter.

In the Ravens of­fense, Har­baugh de­mands an all-around run­ning back. Dixon seemed to be the best one, but we’ll have to wait to see it.

“It is go­ing to be a loss for a lit­tle while, but I was grate­ful for the fact that this is not go­ing to be more than a few weeks,” Har­baugh said.

JERRY JACK­SON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Line­backer An­thony Levine, cut twice by the Pack­ers be­fore land­ing with the Ravens, says he knows how tough it is.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Rookie Ken­neth Dixon (30), gain­ing 5 yards against the Lions in the first quar­ter of Sat­ur­day night’s pre­sea­son game, was on a path to be­come the Ravens’ run­ning back of the fu­ture be­fore he suf­fered a torn MCL. He is ex­pected to miss four to six weeks.

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