Trust In Montgomery Paying Off

Ray Rice and the Ravens RBs share the glory of their success with coach Wilbert Montgomery.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Friday, December 9th, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Categories: Garrett Downing

Inside the meeting rooms with the Baltimore Ravens running backs, one word tends to come up regularly.

Trust.


They talk about trusting the offensive line. Trusting each other. Trusting themselves.

“That’s what we keep selling,” Running Backs Coach Wilbert Montgomery said, “is trust, trust, trust.”

Montgomery is the one behind the mantra, and he can’t talk about the running game without emphasizing the importance of the philosophy.

“The big part about being a running back,” Montgomery said, “is trust.”

The mentality has rubbed off on his players, and Montgomery has certainly earned the trust – and respect – of the Ravens running backs, who are among the best in the NFL.

Ray Rice ranks second in the NFL with 1,473 yards from scrimmage, backup Ricky Williams is a 12-year veteran with nearly 10,000 career rushing yards and fullback Vonta Leach is making a strong campaign to return to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season.

The group is talented already, but Montgomery has made them even better.

“It’s by far been my best experience with a running backs coach,” said Williams, who has played on three teams throughout his career.

 

 

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Part of the connection that the players share with Montgomery is that he’s been in their position.

Montgomery was an NFL running back for nine seasons, and is the all-time leading rusher in Philadelphia Eagles history.

He was a Pro Bower in his time, so when he makes a suggestion, the backs know it’s coming from somewhere who was once at the top of the game.

“Wilbert is a running backs coach, but he is a running back himself,” Rice said. “Him being a running back helps me out because his eyes are my eyes, he sees and feels what I see, so the coaching that I’m getting, it’s like I’ve got to be a sponge to whatever he says.”

Often times some of the best athletes don’t easily make the transition to coaching. 

Montgomery is an exception, and his players respect that.

“There are few coaches that have played and had as much success as he had and also that are students of the game the way he is,” Williams said. “It’s difficult to find that combination in a coach.”

After his playing career ended, Montgomery moved into coaching and has now spent 15 seasons on NFL sidelines, working with three different teams. He joined the Ravens in 2008, when John Harbaugh took over as the head coach.

That was the same year that the Ravens drafted Rice in the second round out of Rutgers. During that four-year span, Rice has topped 1,000 yards twice, and is likely on his way to accomplishing that feat again this season.

“Coach Montgomery has been very influential in my life and my career,” Rice said. “We’ve grown our relationship over the last four years. When he’s coaching, it’s almost like he’s playing the game with me, so it’s a different feeling than I think the normal player-coach relationship.”

Under Montgomery’s tutelage, Rice has developed into one of the premier running backs in the game, a complete player who can hurt defenses by running the ball or catching it out of the backfield.

“With all of our guys, we try to make them complete running backs,” Montgomery said. “Complete running backs are the guys that can do multiple things – I can be a runner, I can be a receiver out of the backfield, I can be a great route runner, I have great hands, I have great awareness, and I can be a great pass blocker. Those are the things that we consider around here to make a top-shelf running back.”

All of those elements were on display last weekend in Cleveland.

The Ravens had their best rushing performance of the season, where they ran the ball 55 times for 290 yards in the win over the Browns. Baltimore opened the game pounding the ball on the ground, and Rice went over 100 yards in the first half.

When the team went into the locker room at halftime, Montgomery challenged Rice to keep it going.

“Coach Montgomery said ‘you know what, let’s start all over.’ So when I came back out, I had a carry for nine or ten yards. I came back to the sideline and he said ‘you got ten yards,’ meaning that we started all over again,” Rice said.

By the time the game was over, Rice had topped the 200-yard mark for the first time in his career.

“When I get my 200 yards, he gets them as well,” Rice said. “We both share the glory.”

That shows how much the backs respect their coach. Their success is his success.

“Wilbert deserves a ton of credit,” Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Wilbert is close with his players, but he coaches them. He doesn’t buddy-buddy them. He cares about them, coaches them, challenges them. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. I think the guys believe what Wilbert says matters, and they listen to him.”

The players listen partly because Montgomery ensures they’re getting the message. He drills it into them, over and over again.

They spend hours in the meeting room, with Montgomery preaching the importance of trust, and “staying on the track” of a play.

They go through the plays and schemes on paper, on tape, in walk-thrus and in practice, so by the time a play gets called in the game, the backs have already been through it several times, with Montgomery leading the way.

“You have to give it to them in as many ways that they can learn because every guy in the classroom has a different way of learning,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery knows that for the players to connect with what he’s saying, it all comes back to the same basic principle.

“It is trusting what we’re selling to you, what we’re teaching you is going to help you to be successful,” Montgomery said.

That’s never been a problem for the Ravens running backs. They look up to Montgomery – as a coach and a person – and are “honored just to be in the same room with him,” as Leach said.

They are learning from someone who was one of the best in the game, who knows what it takes to have the kind of success they are hoping to achieve.

The respect the running backs have for Montgomery is undeniable. 

And most of all, they trust him.

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