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OWINGS MILLS — Willis McGahee became a second shadow to Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Sunday, unsuccessfully lobbying Cameron to unchain him from the bench.
Relegated to the sidelines for the Ravens’ 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals as a precautionary measure due to a left knee injury that was surgically repaired last month, the star running back badly wanted a piece of the action.
In his absence, Baltimore piled up 229 rushing yards and averaged five yards per carry.
"I tried once, but he was like, ‘We’re only going to use you if something happens,’" McGahee said. "So, I just had to sit back and pace the sideline. I didn’t think it was going to be as frustrating as it was at first.
“It was tough that I had to go sit down on the bench and not watch the game. You’ve got to keep it calm, keep it calm. I think it was worthwhile not playing. That was the smart thing to do, just go out there and rest. I was anxious. I had the itch."
Now, McGahee has a much more realistic chance of seeing significant playing time nearly one month removed from undergoing arthroscopic surgery. Despite missing the entire preseason and nearly all of the offseason minicamps, McGahee is beginning to improve his timing and conditioning.
The Ravens’ leading rusher last season with 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns, McGahee is expected to play against the Houston Texans this week.
It’s unclear though, how many snaps and carries he’ll receive. He participated fully in practice Wednesday as the Ravens began installing their game plan, which is a positive sign.
"I want a full workload, but that’s something the coaches will have to go through upstairs to figure out what they want to do," McGahee said. "I’m feeling pretty good. It gets better every day, so I can’t complain."
With McGahee out, the Ravens used a combination of bruising, 260-pound fullback Le’Ron McClain and rookie running back Ray Rice.
McClain gained a career-high 86 yards on 19 carries operating out of a heavy-duty backfield as he ran behind intimidating lead blocker Lorenzo Neal. A second-round draft pick from Rutgers, Rice rushed for 64 yards on 22 carries in his first NFL start.
"It’s going to be good to have Willis in the backfield, we have all of our weapons healthy and ready to go and the only person we were missing was Willis," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "To have Willis back, our main back, is good for our offense."
With McGahee’s anticipated return, he could provide a boost to the NFL’s second-ranked running game. The Texans rank 28th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 183 yards in a 38-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers to open the season.
The Ravens controlled the clock against the Bengals, including an impressive
of time of possession in the fourth quarter alone, to finish with a 36:15 to
"We definitely have flexibility with Willis," center Jason Brown said. "He has extraordinary vision. He gets through those holes and runs north and south immediately.
“I knew it was hurting him even though we put up a lot of yards without Willis. I’m saying, ‘How many yards are we going to put up with Willis?’ All of us can’t wait to get him back on the field."
McClain has been bragging to McGahee about his newly-discovered running style, ribbing the Pro Bowl alternate about showing him up with his bullish moves.
"If Le’Ron gets his 100 yards, he’s going to come into meetings the next day with his head high, talking crap," McGahee said. "He usually talks crap, regardless. I was just happy for him, to tell you the truth."
Unable to get into the game, McGahee offered some advice to Rice. Especially after he fumbled in the fourth quarter and cornerback Johnathan Joseph returned it for a touchdown.
"Ray is a good kid, Ray knows what to do and what not to do," McGahee said. "I just told him, ‘It happens, I fumbled plenty of times before.’ He tried to throw one too many moves in, and he coughed it up. But it’s behind you. You can’t worry about it.
"Ray worked his butt off at training camp. He seized the moment, and Le’Ron did a great job. He finally showed off that he can run that ball."
Running a fairly conservative offense due to the presence of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens are liable to continue running the football behind a young offensive line that appears to be hitting stride.
Cameron’s modus operandi with the San Diego Chargers was to pound defenses with the run on a regular basis. He’s continuing that strategy in Baltimore.
"I look at it as we’re going to be the workhorse of the offense," McGahee said. "Take some of the pressure off of Flacco."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.