Ravens com­mit­ted to re­viv­ing run game

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - Sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

OWINGS MILLS — Only two NFL teams ran the foot­ball fewer times than the Bal­ti­more Ravens in 2016.

Bal­ti­more’s 91.4 yards rush­ing per game ranked 28th in the league and its four yards per at­tempt ranked 21st. Its 367 rushes set a fran­chise low.

The Ravens have com­mit­ted to turn­ing their ground game around.

“It is a point of em­pha­sis. We have been work­ing re­ally hard at it, and I like what we are do­ing,” head coach John Har­baugh said. “I like the way it is be­ing coached, and I like the way the guys are work­ing on the drills, and proof will be in the out­come.”

Har­baugh re­tained Marty Morn­hin­weg as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, but brought in Greg Ro­man as a se­nior of­fen­sive as­sis­tant and tight ends coach. Ro­man is known for de­vel­op­ing some of the NFL’s best rush­ing at­tacks dur­ing his stints as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor of the San Fran­cisco 49ers and Buf­falo Bills.

Ro­man is help­ing the Ravens im­ple­ment down­hill block­ing and run­ning schemes, as op­posed to the zone tech­niques used in pre­vi­ous years.

“We’re putting our heads to­gether on that as a staff, and I think it’ll ad­just as we go,” Ro­man said. “I think they’re do­ing a re­mark­able job of pick­ing it up.”

Ter­rance West, Bal­ti­more’s start­ing run­ning back, said Ro­man’s down­hill scheme best fits his run­ning style. The Bal­ti­more na­tive com­pared it to the of­fense he ran when he starred at nearby Tow­son Univer­sity.

West led the Ravens with 774 yards on 193 car­ries last sea­son. He scored five touch­downs and av­er­aged a ca­reer-high four yards per carry.

West hopes to be Bal­ti­more’s work­horse this year. He be­lieves he gets stronger and stronger as games go on, mak­ing him the right man to feed the ball to.

“I would to love to have 30 car­ries a game,” he said. “As the game goes, I get stronger and stronger. I get to feel the de­fense out and see the lineback­ers pur­su­ing the ball and get lanes for cut­backs.”

Run­ning backs coach Thomas Ham­mock agrees that West can carry in bulk.

“Ter­rance, in col­lege, I think he might have had 500 car­ries. I am ex­ag­ger­at­ing, but he cer­tainly can han­dle the load. He has proven that,” Ham­mock said. “The thing that he is do­ing so well this year is he is bought into pro­tect­ing the quar­ter­back, which al­lows you to stay on the field longer and al­lows you to get more car­ries.”

Ham­mock may be ex­ag­ger­at­ing, but not grossly. West car­ried the ball 413 times his se­nior year, av­er­ag­ing more than 25 rushes per game.

West also noted pass block­ing as his ma­jor em­pha­sis of the off­sea­son, along with con­di­tion­ing. He claims to be 12 pounds lighter than he was a sea­son ago.

West, 26, is en­ter­ing his fourth sea­son and sec­ond full year with Bal­ti­more. He laid out his goals for 2017, a con­tract year for him.

“For us to win our divi­sion and get a run to the Su­per Bowl. For me, to get over 1,000 yards and get the run game back go­ing,” West said. “I am from Bal­ti­more, so I have been a Ravens fan all my life. We have to get this run game back go­ing how it used to be.”

He com­pares him­self to a cer­tain run­ning back who ex­celled un­der Ro­man.

“[Ro­man] was up there [in San Fran­cisco] with Frank Gore, and that is who I com- pare my game to – like a Frank Gore-type guy,” West said. “He is pa­tient. He has great vi­sion, and peo­ple sleep on his speed. He can take it the dis­tance.”

Gore was named to three Pro Bowls in the four years Ro­man was his co­or­di­na­tor. He scored 29 touch­downs in that span and rushed for 1,000 yards each sea­son.

Ro­man wouldn’t com­pare the two play­ers.

“I think Frank’s unique and his body of work speaks for it­self. I think Ter­rance is pretty hun­gry to de­velop his own body of work,” Ro­man said. “Ter­rance has done noth­ing but im­press me as a run­ning back, as a team­mate, just as a mem­ber of the team.”

Sec­ond-year back Ken­neth Dixon had an im­pres­sive rookie sea­son in which he came on strong late af­ter miss­ing the first four games games with a knee in­jury. He av­er­aged 4.34 yards per carry and scored a pair of touch­downs.

Dixon seemed likely to chal­lenge West for the start­ing job, but will miss the en­tire sea­son af­ter un­der­go­ing knee surgery.

His bad for­tune presents Buck Allen with the op­por­tu­nity to have a bounce­back cam­paign.

Allen ran the ball 137 times for 514 yards and a touch­down as a rookie in 2015. He caught 45 passes for 353 yards and two more scores. Hopes were high for Allen in year two.

In­stead, Allen only ran the ball nine times and gained 34 yards. He caught just three passes for 15 yards dur­ing his hum­bling sopho­more sea­son.

“Play more than I did last year,” Allen replied when asked what his goals for the up­com­ing sea­son were. “I feel like this was the tough­est – men­tally – off­sea­son I’ve put my­self through. I know it’s go­ing to pay off.”

Allen’s men­tally drain­ing off­sea­son only got tougher when a close cousin passed away shortly be­fore off­sea­son prac­tices be­gan.

“He was pretty much my right-hand man when I was train­ing. Wher­ever I needed him to be, he made his way there. To lose him right be­fore mini­camp was pretty tough,” he said of his late cousin. “I know for me, not hav­ing him there just made me want to push my­self harder be­cause I know that if he was there, he would push me.”

Allen was a healthy scratch from four games last sea­son, but he never sulked over his re­duced play­ing time. He saw the field pri­mar­ily on spe­cial teams, but im­pacted a onescore win over the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers.

Allen blocked a punt in the fourth quar­ter that was re­cov­ered and re­turned for a touch­down by Chris Moore. The Ravens went on to de­feat Pitts­burgh, 21-14.

“Last year dur­ing the sea­son, I told Buck how proud I was of him for the way he han­dled play­ing the pre­vi­ous year and not play­ing as much last year,” Ham­mock said. “I think what you see from him is a guy that has ma­tured. He has grown up, he has got­ten stronger, he has done the things that he needs to do to put him­self in a po­si­tion to have a chance to be suc­cess­ful.”

Har­baugh said he speaks to Allen ev­ery day and that the third-year back un­der­stands the nature of the busi­ness. He ex­pects “to see the best Buck Allen that we could see.”

Allen spent most of the off­sea­son train­ing in Tampa, Fla. He said his feet feel quicker than they did last train­ing camp, and that he be­lieves Ro­man’s sys­tem ben­e­fits his run­ning style.

“We’re a run-to-day­light of­fense and I think he’s got good vi­sion,” Ro­man said of Allen. “He’s got a lot of tal­ent, so we’ll be able to use him in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways. He’s def­i­nitely im­pressed, pretty much, on a daily ba­sis.”

Bal­ti­more signed free agent Danny Wood­head, who is one of just four play­ers with at least 15 rush­ing and 15 re­ceiv­ing touch­downs this decade. Un­drafted rookie Taquan Mizzell has also had an im­pres­sive train­ing camp and is fight­ing for a ros­ter spot, along with Bobby Rainey, who was signed shortly af­ter Dixon’s in­jury.

Re­gard­less of who is car­ry­ing the ball, one thing is cer­tain: The Ravens plan to run it more this year.

“Ev­ery game is dif­fer­ent,” Ro­man said. “You just don’t know how it’s go­ing to un­fold. We def­i­nitely want to be able to run it when we want to run it – when we need to run it. There’s def­i­nitely a com­mit­ment to run­ning the foot­ball here.”

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

TNS PHOTO

Bal­ti­more Ravens run­ning abck Ter­rance West, right, runs for 35 yards be­fore he is forced out of bound by Red­skins’ Will Black­mon (41), left, dur­ing the Ravens’ first se­ries of the game on Sun­day, Oct. 9, 2016 in Bal­ti­more.

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