OWINGS MILLS — Not limping or wincing in pain, Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice proclaimed himself ready to play in Sunday’s pivotal AFC North clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rice returned to practice Thursday for the first time since suffering a significant contusion on his right knee in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns. Rice participated on a limited basis, but expressed confidence that he’s ready to take on the Steelers.
"I feel great," Rice said one day after he was shielded from conducting interviews. "We have a great corps of backs, but I’m sure I’ll be ready to play."
Rice has an extremely strong track record against the Steelers.
Last season, Rice rushed for 141 yards on 30 carries in a December loss in Pittsburgh. He became the first back in 33 games to gain over 100 yards against the Steelers’ defense.
In three career games against Pittsburgh, Rice has averaged 76.3 rushing yards. That’s the top average against the Steelers for any opposing running back since 2008.
Rice said he doesn’t think the Steelers will target his right knee intentionally.
"I don’t think they’re dirty," Rice said. "I don’t think anybody has the intent to go out there and hurt anybody. I have respect for them, they have respect for us. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those situations where they’re going to take a blatant shot at the knee."
Rice is off-limits to contact in practice this week.
He has no plans to wear extra pads to cushion his knee at Heinz Field.
"That would limit me," said Rice, who has averaged 103.3 yards from scrimmage against Pittsburgh on 229 rushing yards and 81 receiving yards.
Rice was able to run and cut on the side Wednesday when he was held out of practice.
"If I’m able to do the things I can do and be the Ray Rice I can be, there’s no question on whether I’ll play or not," Rice said. At the end of the day, Sunday’s the ultimate test."
Although Rice is predicting he’ll be able to play, the ultimate decision is up to coach John Harbaugh.
"That decision will be up to coach," Rice said. "He’ll see how I look in practice. Right now, I feel great."
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is upbeat about the prospects of having Rice available for duty Sunday.
If Rice can’t go, Willis McGahee would start and split the workload with Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain.
"It’s hard not to be encouraged being around Ray Rice," Cameron said. "He’s just an upbeat guy. There aren’t many things that get him down. Is he in the mix for this game? Absolutely. I think we all know what we’re dealing with, with Ray Rice.”
Rice underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday, and it was determined that he didn’t suffer any ligament or cartilage damage.
Rice was relieved that there was no structural damage and said he feels much better.
"Like night and day," said Rice, comparing how he feels now to when he sustained the injury. "Once you hear the good news of nothing being torn and it’s just a bruise, I felt great. It’s just getting better each day.
"I’m just going out there working because I know it’s just a bruise. I got a second opinion, got everything I needed to do, and once you find out it’s just a bruise, you’ve got new life again."