Since Ray Rice’s arrest back in February following a fight with then fiancée Janay Palmer that took place at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, the Baltimore Ravens star running back has fallen off the grid.
We’ve heard about his reconciling with Palmer who he has since married and the counseling program in which the couple has participated.
Earlier this week we learned that Rice has been accepted into a pretrial intervention program which allows Rice to avoid a trial, potential jail time and the negative publicity that comes with such a high profile case.
The couple and the case are healing yet a complete recovery will still take some time.
Rice and his teammates will have to deal with a likely suspension and what will probably be a season-long distraction when visiting hostile opponents on their turf.
Circumstances like this can galvanize a team. We’ve seen this before during the 2000 season when confronted by fan vitriol stemming from the Ray Lewis murder trial. We could see it again with Rice.
The team is comfortable with the progress the couple has made and they appear confident that the newlyweds are on the road to recovery. What they aren’t as comfortable with is how the team will respond on the field should they miss Rice to start the season, as expected.
The Ravens will more than likely operate the opening two games against the Bengals and Steelers, two important division games, with a running-back-by-committee approach, which could actually work in their favor.
Divisional foes are dialed in to each other’s tendencies and the way in which they use their personnel. There are generally few surprises and games are won and lost on execution or the lack thereof.
But the Ravens will look a bit different to the Bengals and Steelers. No longer will they show the same humdrum personnel groupings and the same predictable pistol formations, which by the way are more suited for running quarterbacks.
There’s a new offensive coordinator in town.
Adding to the unfamiliarity will be running backs Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro.
Pierce has often been compared to Arian Foster, who flourished with Kubiak in Houston. Forsett also has a fine track record with Kubes as a change-of-pace back, possessing a burst and strong change of direction skills. Taliaferro, the versatile rookie from Coastal Carolina has a nose for the end zone and was an accomplished blocker and pass catcher at the collegiate level.
And then there’s Kyle Juszczyk, a heady player with great hands who can be a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Who knows how Kubiak will utilize his backfield weapons if Roger Goodell forces Rice to the sidelines?
Who knows how he’ll distribute the workload amongst the backfield options?
Yet the uncertainty will weigh on new Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and Steelers DC Dick LeBeau. It will affect the players. The uncertainty will slow them down and in the process leave opportunities on the field for the Ravens.
A full season without Ray Rice given the uncertainties in the Ravens backfield would be concerning.
But a couple of games against divisional foes that depend on familiarity and tendencies isn’t such a bad thing.
It might even help.
After which Rice can get back on the grid and the gridiron.