Run­ning backs shine as Ravens down Pan­thers in preseason opener

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By JORDAN SCHATZ

— A com­pet­i­tive bat­tle at one of the team’s deep­est po­si­tions grew tighter still Thurs­day evening as a trio of run­ning backs took turns cre­at­ing big plays dur­ing the Bal­ti­more Ravens’ preseason opener against the Carolina Pan­thers.

With veteran run­ning back and ex­pected starter Justin Forsett not play­ing, the back­field com­mit­tee of Buck Allen, Ter­rance West and rookie Ken­neth Dixon shared car­ries for most of the game, com­bin­ing for 75 rush­ing yards, 26 re­ceiv­ing yards and three touch­downs as the Ravens topped the Pan­thers, 22-19, be­fore an an­nounced 70,682 at M&T Bank Sta­dium.

“The run­ning game showed up, es­pe­cially early in the game,” Ravens head coach John Har­baugh said. “Our of­fen­sive line played well, ob­vi­ously, but our backs were dy­namic. All the back that played, played well.

“Now we have this game be­hind us and we can watch the tape and have a sense of OK, this is kind of our be­gin­ning,” Har­baugh con­tin­ued. “This is where we start.”

With the Ravens trail­ing 10-0 early in the sec­ond quar­ter, West put his team on the board when he launched him­self over the de­fen­sive line and into the end zone on

BAL­TI­MORE

jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. He later gave Bal­ti­more a 22-13 ad­van­tage when he scored an­other touch­down in the third quar­ter by chang­ing di­rec­tion at the line of scrim­mage and out­rac­ing the de­fense for a 2-yard score.

West’s per­for­mance con­tin­ued what has been a strong train­ing camp for the for­mer third-round pick, who fin­ished the game hav­ing rushed for 25 yards on nine car­ries.

“I don’t care if it’s preseason or not, ev­ery time you step on that field it’s an­other op­por­tu­nity to get bet­ter. Today I felt like, as a group, we got bet­ter,” said West, who also added a 24-yard kick re­turn in the third quar­ter. “I’m just try­ing to win over ev­ery guy in that build­ing and show the Ravens fa­cil­ity that they can count on me. I’m just try­ing to come out here and work hard and show these guys that they can de­pend on me.”

West, who com­peted in six games for the Ravens last sea­son, joins Allen as two backs who saw sub­stan­tial play­ing time in 2015. Af­ter Forsett suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing in­jury in Week 11 against the St. Louis Rams, Allen filled in as the team’s top op­tion, end­ing the sea­son with 514 rush­ing yards, 353 re­ceiv­ing yards and three com­bined touch­downs.

On Thurs­day, he de­liv­ered the Ravens the lead when he caught a screen pass from quar­ter­back Ryan Mal­lett and ac­cel­er­ated into the sec­ondary for a 19-yard score.

“It was cool. It could have been bet­ter, I al­ways feel like I can get bet­ter, but I’ve got to take it one day at a time. You can’t al­ways hit a home run on the first play,” said Allen, who fin­ished with just the one catch and six yards rush­ing on six car­ries. “[The run­ning backs are] all com­pet­ing, and at the same time we’re all go­ing to push each other and make each other bet­ter, but we’re all com­pet­ing.”

It may have been Dixon, how­ever, that made the most of his play­ing time on Thurs­day. The Ravens’ fourth-round se­lec­tion took his first carry

of the night 19 yards up the mid­dle. He ended the evening with a team-high 44 rush­ing yards on nine car­ries.

“I feel like we were re­ally coached up to go out there and were very pre­pared for our first game,” said Dixon, who also pro­duced a pair of long runs in the team’s prac­tice at the sta­dium on Aug. 6. “[On my first run], my Oline re­ally opened up a great hole for me and I was able to make a guy miss. It al­ways feels good to see green grass in front of you. The of­fen­sive line made it very easy for me. I just hit the hole and the rest is history.”

Mal­lett, fill­ing in for Joe Flacco, who con­tin­ues to re­hab from a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury suf­fered last sea­son, played the first two quar­ters. He over­came an in­ter­cep­tion on the team’s sec­ond drive by fin­ish­ing 6-for-6 for 49 yards on the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion. He pol­ished off the

drive by com­plet­ing a pass to tight end Maxx Wil­liams to the 1-yard line that set up West’s first touch­down run.

The backup quar­ter­back com­pleted 11 of 15 passes for 91 yards with an in­ter­cep­tion and a touch­down.

“My guys were get­ting open and I was throw­ing them the ball. That’s my job and I just have to con­tinue get­ting bet­ter do­ing that,” Mal­lett said. “I think it’s just get­ting more com­fort­able, know­ing my per­son­nel bet­ter, get­ting a lot of reps in camp and then

com­ing out here and get­ting a start.”

Led by the reign­ing MVP Cam New­ton at quar­ter­back, the Pan­thers took the lead on the open­ing pos­ses­sion when Graham Gano con­nected for a 26-yard field goal to cap a 14-play, 68-yard drive. They added to their lead later in the quar­ter when backup quar­ter­back Derek An­der­son found re­ceiver Devin Funchess with a 10-yard scor­ing pass over­top cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright to bury the Ravens in an early two-score def-

icit. Carolina line­backer AJ Klein set up the touch­down af­ter he picked off a pass that ap­peared to be jug­gled by the in­tended re­ceiver, tight end Darren Waller.

The line­backer re­turned the ball for a touch­down, but a penalty called on New­ton for en­ter­ing the field of play dur­ing the run­back negated the score.

The in­ter­cep­tion came just a few plays af­ter the Ravens caused their own turnover. Out­side line­backer Za’Dar­ius Smith sacked An­der­son and

forced a fum­ble that de­fen­sive tackle Carl Davis re­cov­ered at the Carolina 21-yard line. The play proved to be a wel­com­ing sight for Bal­ti­more, which cre­ated just 14 turnovers a year ago.

“It was big. We stressed [turnovers]. We preach it; we prac­tice it ev­ery day, day in and day out,” Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle said. “Your only hope is it car­ries over in the game.”

Fol­low Jordan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JORDAN SCHATZ

Bal­ti­more Ravens run­ning back Ter­rance West scored a pair of touch­downs dur­ing his team’s 22-19 win over the vis­it­ing Carolina Pan­thers in the preseason opener at M&T Bank Sta­dium in Bal­ti­more on Thurs­day.

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