Dixon’s rise to running back of the future has to wait
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.
Linebacker Anthony Levine, cut twice by the Packers before landing with the Ravens, says he knows how tough it is.
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.