OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens are hoping to manufacture a punishing running game to take the pressure off a passing game in flux, acquiring former Pro Bowl running back Rick Williams on a two-year deal with a maximum value of $4 million.
This is the Ravens’ latest move (ESPN video) to build a more physical offense having already retained gritty offensive guard Marshal Yanda and signing All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach.
Now, they’ve landed a powerful former Heisman Trophy winner feared by linebackers as a tackle-busting, compact 5-foot-10, 230 pounder. He’ll work in tandem with former Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice as his primary backup.
“He’ll take some of the load off of Ray and make him last longer out there,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He’s a big, physical back that we are going to like around here. I am hoping he makes us a good amount better. I think Ricky is a great addition, and anytime you get a back like that he’s going to help your team out.
“I think he’s an awesome football player. He’s a pretty legit dude. He looks like a big, strong guy and not somebody that I think a lot of people would really want to get in the way of.”
Replacing Willis McGahee as the Ravens’ backup runner, Williams agreed to a deal with a base value of $2.5 million with an additional $1.5 million of incentives.
He’s scheduled to arrive in Baltimore today to take a physical, but isn’t expected to play in the Ravens’ preseason opener Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams told WQAM radio that he chose Baltimore over the Detroit Lions.
“It was a tough choice for me, but Baltimore is an established team and a winning organization,” Williams said. “I’ll always be a Dolphin at heart, but I’m excited about this opportunity with the Ravens.”
Last season, Williams rushed for 673 yards and two touchdowns for the Miami Dolphins as he split carries with Ronnie Brown.
Two seasons ago, Williams rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I’m an every-down back, so I know I’m going to need to be spelled once in a while,” Rice said. “I’m looking forward to working with him. It’s a good thing to have a change of pace, so we’ll be good to go. I have a lot of respect, especially for his game and what he’s been through. How can you forget a Heisman Trophy winner?”
Williams led the NFL with 1,853 yards in 2002 after being traded to the Dolphins from the New Orleans for four draft selections, including a pair of first-round draft picks.
Williams briefly played for Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron when he was the Dolphins’ head coach during a 1-15 campaign.
“He gives us a proven playmaker, an outstanding runner, an outstanding receiver and an outstanding pass protector,” Cameron said. “I think he has a big-time chance of helping us.”
Williams entered the NFL with a lot of acclaim, drafted fifth overall in 1999 by the New Orleans Saints as coach Mike Ditka traded his entire draft pick group to get the San Diego native in addition to first-round and third-round selections the following year.
He has rushed for 9,569 career yards and 68 touchdowns, registering 325 receptions for 2,523 yards and eight touchdowns.
Williams should fit in well as a short-yardage and red-zone option that could also protect Flacco from blitzing linebackers.
“We have to see what kind of shape he is in, but he is familiar with the system,” Cameron said. “He knows this system, and he has played extremely well in this system.”
However, Williams has a history of failed drug tests for marijuana and has been suspended by the NFL previously. He retired for a season in 2004 after violating the NFL substance-abuse policy, but rushed for 743 yards and six touchdowns one year later.
Williams was diagnosed with social anxiety and borderline personality disorder, which was treated successfully with therapy and medication.
Is Williams a risk to get in trouble again? Not in Cameron’s opinion.
“Those are all fair questions, but I think a lot of those things are way, way, way in the past,” Cameron said. “My relationship, my experience with him, there is no risk, but we are all human. There is risk with you. There is risk with me.
“There is risk with everybody in here. We are all living and breathing, and we all make mistakes. Ricky is not perfect, but I know he has a great heart and he is a great football player.”