EMERG­ING WEAPON

Ravens rookie Ken­neth Dixon mak­ing a name for him­self

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

While Ter­rance West has been the Ravens’ clear start­ing run­ning back, rookie Ken­neth Dixon pro­vided ev­i­dence that he could com­ple­ment West — or maybe even chal­lenge him for that role.

In Thurs­day night’s 28-7 vic­tory over the Cleve­land Browns at M&T Bank Sta­dium, Dixon car­ried the ball six times for 38 yards, lead­ing all run­ning backs with a 6.3-yard av­er­age. His night could have 97.9 FM, 1090 AM been even big­ger if a 17-yard rush in the fourth quar­ter had not been negated by a hold­ing penalty on right guard Vladimir Du­casse.

But more than the stats, it was the first sign of Dixon’s run­ning with the kind of au­thor­ity and de­ci­sive­ness he had de­mon- strated be­fore strain­ing an MCL in his left knee in a pre­sea­son game Aug. 27.

“I feel like I’m back 100 per­cent, and I’m ready for the work­load that the team gives me,” Dixon said Thurs­day in the locker room un­der­neath M&T Bank Sta­dium. “Ev­ery­thing that they give me, I just want to take ad­van­tage of. We have two great run­ning backs out there. In the game, it gets a lit­tle tight. So I’m just wait­ing for my mo­ment and tak­ing ad­van­tage of it.”

Dixon, the Ravens’ last of five draft picks

in the fourth round this year, had 87 ca­reer touch­downs at Louisiana Tech, one be­hind the NCAA record by Navy’s Keenan Reynolds, who was se­lected in the sixth round by the Ravens and is on the prac­tice squad.

Dixon emerged in the pre­sea­son as a power back tightly coiled in a 5-foot-10, 212-pound frame.

De­spite sit­ting out the team’s fi­nal game at the New Or­leans Saints, Dixon fin­ished the pre­sea­son as the team leader with 107 rush­ing yards and 4.9 per carry. At home against the Detroit Lions in the third pre­sea­son game, he ap­peared to have been stopped for a short gain, but con­tin­ued to churn his legs and moved the pile another 5 yards.

Dixon was in­jured while get­ting tack­led by a scrum of Lions — led by for­mer Ravens de­fen­sive tackle Haloti Ngata — 1 yard short of the end zone in the sec­ond quar­ter. It was his wel­come-to-the-league mo­ment, and forced him to sit out the first four games of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Dixon is still reac­cli­mat­ing him­self to the rig­ors of the NFL and try­ing to catch up on some of the growth he had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore the in­jury.

“Just get­ting back into the flow of things, get­ting back to the speed of the game,” he said. “I was out for four weeks, and the game doesn’t stop. So I had to come back and be pre­pared to play. I just got back into the flow of things, and it felt good to be back.”

As painful as the knee in­jury looked — his lower leg bent un­der the weight of tack­lers — Dixon was not placed on in­jured re­serve. And his an­tic­i­pated re­turn played a role in the fran­chise’s de­ci­sion to re­lease vet­eran run­ning back Justin Forsett on Oct. 4.

Full­back Kyle Juszczyk said he has seen glimpses of the Dixon who flashed in the pre­sea­son.

“I think Ken­neth is just gain­ing con­fi­dence as he goes,” Juszczyk said. “He’s a rookie, and hasn’t been out there much. So ev­ery carry, he’s just go­ing to con­tinue to get bet­ter and be more con­fi­dent. He al­ways runs hard. You can al­ways count on him to run hard, but I think he’s just gain­ing con­fi­dence.”

Af­ter play­ing 18 of 212 po­ten­tial snaps in his first three games, Dixon has been on the field for 26 plays in back-to-back games against the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and Cleve­land. In the first half Thurs­day night, he caught five passes for 42 yards, in­clud­ing two for first downs. His only carry in the first two quar­ters went for 11 yards and another first down.

In the sec­ond half, he gained 27 yards on five rushes to help the Ravens (5-4, 3-0 AFC North) amass 232 yards of of­fense and 22 points in the sec­ond half.

“I think he’s back, health-wise,” coach John Har­baugh said. “He got back from the knee about four weeks ago and has steadily looked bet­ter. I told him this week, I said, ‘This is your break­out game. You look like you’re ready.’ He did a great job.”

Dixon said he was grate­ful for the ex­panded work­load the coaches have be­stowed upon him.

“I had some down­hill runs where I got my pads squared go­ing down­hill, and we had fun,” he said.

The hi­er­ar­chy among the run­ning backs, for now, is clear. West (Tow­son Uni­ver­sity, North­west­ern High) is the fea­tured run­ning back, Dixon is the backup, and Lorenzo Tali­a­ferro and Buck Allen are bat­tling for snaps. Juszczyk joked that no run­ning back is happy with the num­ber of touches he gets, but Dixon said run­ning backs coach Thomas Ham­mock has set the tone for his group.

“We’re close in our room,” he said. “No one man ever gets the glory. It gets spread out among all the run­ning backs. We give Coach Ham­mock all the credit. We’re all a group, and we’re all out there to­gether. We’re all a part of the show, hold­ing it high and tight.”

As pos­i­tive as Thurs­day night’s show­ing was for Dixon, he de­clined to turn any ela­tion af­ter the vic­tory into a per­sonal cam­paign for more play­ing time.

“It can be a spring­board for all of us,” he said. “We got our third divi­sion win, and it’s off from there. It’s all about cham­pi­onships. It’s not about me.”

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ken­neth Dixon runs for 11 yards in the first quar­ter of Thurs­day night’s game against the Browns. Dixon, who missed the first four games of the reg­u­lar sea­son with a knee in­jury, fin­ished with six car­ries for 38 yards, lead­ing the Ravens’ run­ning backs with a 6.3-yard av­er­age.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Ravens’ Ken­neth Dixon gains 16 yards against the Browns in Thurs­day night’s 28-7 vic­tory. “I just got back into the flow of things, and it felt good to be back,” he said af­ter the game.

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