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In only three years, Ravens running back Ray Rice has established himself as one of the best playmakers in the NFL.
But if he wants to keep that standard, venerable ESPN newsman John Clayton thinks the Ravens should be wary of giving Rice too many carries.
“He’s probably better served to be a 280-carry back because what you worry about, you saw it last year when he was fighting injuries all season long,” Clayton recently told BaltimoreRavens.com. “There’s only like six or seven backs each year that get 20 carries a game. That’s the way it is. It’s a game of specialization.”
In a recent column on ESPN.com, Clayton wrote about the cautions of hitting the 300-carry mark, which Rice just tipped (307 attempts for 1,220 yards) in 2010.
Clayton’s piece dives deep into the 300 barrier, noting that while there were 13 backs who had 300 attempts in 2003, the number has dropped significantly.
Last year, seven runners had 300 carries, with six in 2009 and five in 2008.
Clayton’s biggest concern is the constant pounding that comes with such a heavy workload.
“I just think that the amount of carries, particularly those between the guards, those really tend to wear down a back,” said Clayton.
Still, he believes the Ravens will begin to trend more towards a passing offense as quarterback Joe Flacco enters his fourth season – a move that should only benefit the diminutive runner.
“Even though it’s an offense that has consistently been getting 30 carries a game since Joe Flacco got there, I think it’s going to start to drop back and let Flacco throw the ball a little more,” said Clayton. “That may take the number of rushes down into the high 20s. If that’s the case, saving Ray and spacing out some of the carries and making him more of the 16-, 17-carry guy probably serves him better.
“I think it keeps him fresher, it doesn’t wear him down, and you get more longevity out of that.”
That’s not to say the Ravens won’t keep putting the ball in Rice’s hands. With 141 receptions for 1,258 yards over the last two seasons, Rice is just as dangerous in the open field.
To Clayton, those tackles are different than running up the gut.
“Maybe this is something that I’m missing on, but I don’t think it’s as bad when you’re out in the open field and you’re taking a tackle like that,” Clayton noted. “Let’s put it this way, when LaDainian Tomlinson had his one year when he had 350 or 360 carries, it took him two years to get his body back. But when he had a 100-catch season, it didn’t bother him at all.”