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Ray Rice regularly says that his backup running back Ricky Williams is “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The idea has merit, as Rice enjoyed the best season of his career with Williams on the roster.
In his first year with the Ravens, Williams proved to be an excellent fit for the offense and Rice will be happy to know that Williams fully intends to return to Baltimore next year for his 12th NFL season.
“My body feels good and I know I’m going to train hard and so I’m excited about next year,” Williams said after the season. “I’ve grown a lot, kind of falling into a new role and a new city and a new organization, and I’ve gotten better. And like everyone else, I feel like I have something to build on for next year.”
Williams will be 35 years old by the time next season starts – potentially making him the oldest running back in the league (Kevin Faulk, 35, and Sammy Morris, 34, are currently older) – and he will be entering the final season of a two-year deal he signed with Baltimore.
In a league where longevity is fleeting and even the best running backs tend to fizzle out by age 30, Williams has found a way to stay productive, valuable and healthy in the twilight years of his career.
“I’m not so surprised I’ve played this long, but I am surprised at how good I feel,” Williams said.
Judging by the stat sheet, Williams saw a decline in his production this season.
He had career lows in carries (108) and total rushing yards (444), and scored only two touchdowns. For a player who has spent much of his 11-year career as a feature back and face of the franchise, the drop in stats might seem bothersome.
But not for Williams, who relished the chance to serve as Rice’s backup.
The Ravens used the 230-pound running back to spell Rice at times and bring more of a power rusher into the game. The one-two punch led to a statistical decline for Williams, but helped Rice stay fresh and become the only player in the NFL to net more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
“For me the opportunities to be a feature back are not as much,” Williams said. “But the opportunity to play and that someone wants me, it’s a big deal at this point.”
As the end nears for some NFL players, the topic of retirement is often met with hesitation.
Williams, however, admits that he thinks about it and what life could hold for him after football, even if he knows it might not be for a couple of years.
“I think about what am I going to do in retirement, and I think to me, one of the most valuable things about the football season is that you’re pushed in so many different ways that it forces you to grow,” he said. “It’s a very intense environment in a very short amount of time, and once you leave this it’s going to be hard to match this opportunity to grow.”
One opportunity that Williams is still playing for is a chance at a Super Bowl ring. He has made the playoffs just three times in his career and this season was the closest he’s ever come to the Super Bowl.
As the Ravens cleared out their lockers last week to break for the offseason, Williams said that even after the heartbreaking loss to New England, the process was easier than previous seasons because the team has confidence they can get back in position to play for football’s ultimate prize.
“Situations like this are always learning experiences,” Williams said. “I think if you look at the big picture and what it takes to train a team to win a Super Bowl, this is just one of those lessons.
“I think we have enough character and we have enough leadership that we’re going to take the confidence that we gained in that game and hopefully carry it over to next year and go a little bit further.”