AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 8

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
5:00
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:
  • It was another sluggish practice for quarterback Joe Flacco. He mishandled a snap from center, and he lost grip of the ball while dropping back (and not getting hit). Flacco did show nice touch on a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, who found a hole in the zone defense. But Flacco was later intercepted over the middle by Asa Jackson on a poor pass.
  • Punter Sam Koch provided the highlight of the day as a field-goal kicker. With Justin Tucker getting the day off, Koch hit from 60 and 51 yards. After connecting on the 60-yarder, he was lifted in the air by coach John Harbaugh. There's less concern about how the Ravens will fare if Tucker ever gets injured in a game.
  • Linebacker Terrell Suggs has been having a terrific camp, mainly because he's been getting to the quarterback after beating tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner. On Friday, he reminded everyone that he can more than hold his own dropping back into coverage. Suggs drew the assignment of covering Pitta and Owen Daniels, and neither caught a pass on him.
  • Wide receiver Steve Smith was asked by a fan why he wasn't practicing. "I beat the defense up, so they wanted to give me the day off," he said. Along with Steve Smith, Monroe and cornerback Jimmy Smith were given the day off.
  • With Jimmy Smith off and Lardarius Webb still hurt, the Ravens had a much different look at cornerback with the first-team defense. Chykie Brown and undrafted rookie Tremain Jacobs were on the outside, while Asa Jackson lined up in the slot.
  • Schedule: The Ravens have a 10 a.m. ET practice Saturday.
  • Injury wire: Webb (back) missed his sixth straight practice. ... ILB Daryl Smith (groin) was sidelined for a third consecutive day. ... DT Timmy Jernigan (back spasms) and G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... WR Jeremy Butler (groin) returned but didn't appear to be at full strength. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:20
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:


  • Starting quarterback Joe Flacco made his best and worst throws of camp in the same practice. His best pass came when he hit wide receiver Torrey Smith in stride on a 30-yard touchdown strike down the sideline. Then, in a red zone drill, Flacco threw off his back foot while fading backward. Not surprisingly, it was intercepted by cornerback Dominique Franks in the end zone.
  • Left guard Kelechi Osemele continued an impressive and physical training camp. He delivered a block that knocked defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the ground and later did the same to Brandon Williams. After watching Osemele in practice, you realize how much his absence last year -- he had back surgery -- hurt the Ravens' offensive line.
  • While it's been established that Jimmy Smith is one of the league's best young cornerbacks, his performance in the one-on-one drills in the red zone was still impressive. In a drill where the defensive back is at a disadvantage, Smith intercepted a pass in front of Torrey Smith and he broke up a pass to LaQuan Williams. It was interesting to note that Smith then joined tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels to catch passes from the Jugs machine in an effort to improve his hands.
  • The biggest surprise of camp has been wide receiver Kamar Aiken. He wasn't on the radar this offseason, but he likely has passed Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams on the depth chart with what he's done this summer. It seems like he makes a catch every day that makes you notice him.
  • In a matchup between two struggling players, wide receiver Marlon Brown made a diving, one-handed catch for a touchdown against cornerback Chykie Brown. Coming off a strong rookie season, Marlon Brown has been dropping several passes throughout the offseason and training camp. That frustration may been the reason why he spiked the ball in Chykie Brown's direction.
  • Justin Tucker hit field goals from 63 and 56 yards. He missed on a 55-yard attempt.
  • Schedule: The Ravens have an 8:30 a.m. ET practice Thursday. Running back Ray Rice will have his much anticipated news conference following practice.
  • Injury wire: DE Brent Urban (knee) suffered a potentially serious injury during the first hour of practice. DT Timmy Jernigan (back) also left the field and didn't return, although the Ravens believe he's fine. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his fourth straight practice. LBs Daryl Smith and Albert McClellan both weren't at practice for undisclosed reasons. ... G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Two of the Baltimore Ravens' rookie draft picks were injured on the same play at training camp Wednesday.

Defensive end Brent Urban and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan both got hurt on a running drill against the offensive line less than an hour into practice.

Urban, a fourth-round pick out of Virginia, looks more seriously hurt with what appears to be a right knee injury. He needed to be helped off the field by two trainers and was later carted off.

The Ravens expected Urban to be the primary backup to Chris Canty. Urban missed some early offseason practices after undergoing ankle surgery in February.

Jernigan, a second-round pick from Florida State, suffered a back injury. He followed Urban inside team headquarters but he walked off the field on his own power. Jernigan, who was competing for a starting job, had been one of the more impressive rookies at this year's training camp.

Coach John Harbaugh will be asked about the injuries following practice.
The Baltimore Ravens have gone to the Arena League to add more depth to their secondary.

The Ravens signed defensive back Marrio Norman and waived wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard.

Norman, who turns 28 next month, played the past two seasons for the Cleveland Gladiators and Georgia Force. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Norman played both safety and cornerback in college while at Coastal Carolina.

He had tried out for the Ravens earlier this year but wasn't signed. The Ravens have grown thin at cornerback since Aaron Ross suffered a season-ending Achilles injury and Lardarius Webb has missed more time than expected with a back injury.

Sheppard, who played at nearby Towson in college, spent last season on the Ravens' practice squad.
One of the last things that Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees wants to see is deep passes completed against his players. So what happens in the first week of training camp?

Joe Flacco rediscovers his touch on downfield throws against the Ravens defense. Reducing big plays was a priority for the Ravens defense entering camp, and it's become a major point of emphasis since watching passes sail over the heads of defenders.

"Look, Joe's a hell of a quarterback," Pees said. "We've got a hell of a group of receivers. We're going to see a hell of a group of receivers all year. It's going to happen. They're going to throw some comebacks on you. They're going to throw some balls underneath. What we can't do is give up balls over the top. I'm a little disappointed in the first few days. We've got to do better than that."

To put in perspective how much big passing plays hurt the Ravens, their defense ranked in the bottom three in the league in completion percentage, completions and touchdowns allowed on throws that traveled in the air for at least 40 yards.

The Ravens watched quarterbacks complete over half of those 40 yard-plus passes -- 53.8 percent, to be exact -- on their secondary. They gave up seven completions on such throws (only the New York Jets and Detroit Lions allowed more), including four that went for touchdowns (which tied the Jets for most in the NFL).

"The one thing everybody's disappointed in is the big plays," secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "The one thing about having the responsibility of being in the secondary, whether you're coaching or playing in it, is ultimately on a pass play that is deep, it falls on those guys. We take it personally. We talked about it this morning, as a matter of fact -- the pride of not giving up deep pass completions, even out here in practice. We don't want to do that. I told the guys we don't care if it's a walk-through, a jog-through or full speed -- you don't want to allow it."

The Ravens' secondary has changed since last season. They didn't re-sign safety James Ihedigbo and currently have Darian Stewart penciled in as the replacement. Corey Graham, the No. 3 cornerback last season, is also gone, and there's a battle between Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and Dominique Franks to fill that spot.

Despite the changes, the returning players say communication and continuity won't be a problem.

"Honestly, I think the chemistry with our back end already is better than it was last year in training camp with the new guys, to me," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "We understand each other, we talk, and [Spagnuolo] does a great job in meetings. He takes time in meetings to make sure everybody gets what we're doing, and everybody can work off each other. That makes all of our defensive players, our DBs at least, communicate a lot better and be more focused on details and the right technique more than on your talent, or how fast you are.”

Giving up big plays has been a bad trend for the Ravens defense. Some might assume the biggest problem was not bringing back Ed Reed after the Super Bowl season. But the Ravens actually gave up more passes over 40 yards (nine) in 2012 than they did last season.

The Ravens will get tested early. Their season opening opponent is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who led the NFL last season with seven completions on throws that traveled at least 40 yards in the air.

How will the Ravens cut down on the big plays? By using their eyes better.

"If you're in man coverage, your eyes are on your man until he's running down the sideline, then you can turn and look for the ball. If you're playing zone, you've got to read your quarterback and feel the guy in your vision," Pees said. "We're not making mental mistakes. When we get beat deep, generally it's your eyes."

Ravens Camp Report: Day 5

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
10:45
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:


  • Wide receiver Torrey Smith made the catch of camp, when he pulled in a high Joe Flacco throw with one hand. For most of camp, Steve Smith had stolen the spotlight from Torrey Smith. But Torrey Smith showed off his athleticism with that catch during the red zone drill.
  • Safety Matt Elam became the first to intercept Flacco in this year's camp. He nearly paid a price for it, though. Owner Steve Bisciotti playfully drove his golf cart onto the field and nearly hit Elam to stop him from reaching the end zone on the return.
  • Running back Justin Forsett has an impressive burst. If you didn't know it, he put it on display when he caught a short slant and beat four defenders to score a touchdown. Forsett is a smallish back who is competing with rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro for the No. 3 running back spot.
  • Cornerback Chykie Brown struggled mightily in the first week of camp. After sitting out yesterday with a tweaked hamstring, he came back and broke up two passes. The extra rest may have helped him refocus mentally. His biggest mistake of the night was a defensive holding penalty.
  • A little more than 28,000 fans attended the Ravens' practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night. It was the team's first workout at the stadium in this year's camp.
  • Ray Lewis made an appearance at the stadium and revealed what his statue may look like during an on-field interview. He said the statue, which will be placed in the same plaza as Johnny Unitas, will feature him doing his signature dance. It will be unveiled at some point this year.
  • Schedule: The Ravens have their first day off on Tuesday. They return to practice Wednesday at 1 p.m.
  • Injury wire: Brown (tweaked hamstring) returned after missing one day of practice. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his third practice. ... DE Chris Canty (family issue) was the only other starter who didn't practice. ... Will Rackley (head) and OT Parker Graham (groin) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has received a negative backlash from national media and fans since his altercation with then-fiancée Janay Palmer in February.

Rice
Rice
But, in his home stadium, Rice apparently remains one of the most popular players on the team.

On two separate instances, fans gave loud cheers when Rice was shown on the big screen at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens held their first open practice of training camp.

The first time was when Rice had a playful race with a small child along the sidelines. By the time Rice reached the end, which was a few feet from the stands, many fans gave him a standing ovation.

A few minutes later, Rice was again shown on the large video board. When fans cheered him, Rice tapped his chest.

There were many fans wearing Rice's No. 27 jersey, including several children.

Rice was suspended two games by the NFL on Thursday, and he didn't appeal the decision. He will miss the season opener against the AFC North defending champion Cincinnati Bengals and a Thursday night game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that’s my fault," Rice said in a statement released by the team on Thursday. "As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously.

“My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident. I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that.”

Rice is scheduled to speak to reporters on Thursday.
Joe Flacco continues to be the face of bad contracts for quarterbacks, and it's just wrong to continue this narrative.

When Grantland named the starter for the Baltimore Ravens its choice at quarterback on the All-Bad Contracts Team, it was another instance of forgetting the deals signed by Tony Romo and Jay Cutler since. If Flacco's contract is the worst, how would you describe the bigger contracts given to two quarterbacks who haven't accomplished as much as Flacco?

In terms of guaranteed money, Romo ($55 million) and Cutler ($54 million) top Flacco's $51 million. And, to put this in perspective, the Ravens rewarded Flacco with his big deal after he was the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player. Romo and Cutler were given this type of money after failing to lead their teams to the playoffs.

Flacco
Flacco's 62 regular-season wins are the most by a starting quarterback in his first six seasons in NFL history. Before you say he was the beneficiary of playing on great teams, 35 of those wins came when Flacco produced a passer rating of at least 95.

In comparison, since Flacco entered the league in 2008, Cutler has 47 wins and Romo has 44. In Cutler's eight seasons, he has finished with a winning record as a starter three times.

Where Flacco separates himself is in the playoffs. While many remember Flacco's Montana-like Super Bowl run two years ago, he has been a hot quarterback in the postseason beyond that.

In his past three playoff seasons (2010-2012), Flacco has a 6-2 record with a 105 passer rating. He has averaged 251 passing yards per game with 18 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also came within a Lee Evans dropped pass from leading the Ravens to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.

This overshadows the likes of Romo and Cutler. Romo has a career 1-3 record in the playoffs, and Cutler is 1-1 in the postseason.

This isn't to suggest that Flacco's contract is a good one. He would be the first to acknowledge he didn't live up to the six-year, $120.6 million deal last season, when he threw the second-most interceptions in the league.

But his contract isn't as gaudy as it was 17 months ago, when he became the NFL's highest-paid player. Flacco now ranks seventh in the league in guaranteed money.

Still, the perception remains that Flacco's contract is the worst in NFL history. The fact is, worse deals have been given to quarterbacks over the past year.
Rice
Rice
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice did not appeal his two-game suspension from the NFL, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

This move was not a surprise considering Rice received a lighter punishment than expected. Rice, who was suspended Thursday, had three days to appeal the decision.

Rice will miss the season opener against the AFC North defending champion Cincinnati Bengals and a Thursday night game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. He can participate in training camp and all the preseason games. Rice, though, won't be able to practice with the team from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11.

Bernard Pierce, the team's top backup running back, said he is ready to fill in for Rice.

Rice's suspension stems from an altercation with then-fiancée Janay Palmer at an Atlantic City hotel in February. He also was fined an additional regular-season game check.

"It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that's my fault," Rice said in a statement released by the Ravens last week. "As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously.

"My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let (them) down because of this incident," Rice said. "I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that."

Rice is scheduled to address the media on Thursday.
Examining the Baltimore Ravens' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

Flacco is the Ravens' starter for the seventh straight season, and Taylor will be the backup for the fourth year in a row. They've taken a majority of the reps in the first week of training camp. Wenning, a rookie sixth-round pick, is making a slow transition into the Ravens' offense. Let's keep him on the roster for now. But he's definitely on the bubble at this point.

Running backs (4)

Rice, Pierce and Juszczyk are locks to make the team. Taliaferro is a near certainty as well, based on the fact that he's a fourth-round pick. Rice has been suspended for the first two games of the season, which allows the Ravens to carry Forsett.

Receivers (5)

Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Brown and Jones are going to make the roster, although Brown has struggled all offseason and for the first week of camp. The tough question is whether the Ravens will carry five or six receivers, because Butler, Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams could all be competing for one spot. Butler, an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee-Martin, was the most impressive player from this group in the offseason workouts. Campanaro, a seventh-round pick, has shown off his quickness in training camp. If there is no room for him on the roster, Campanaro could be placed on injured reserve at the end of the preseason and get essentially redshirted.

Tight ends (3)

No major decisions at this position. The Ravens' top three tight ends are guaranteed to make the team, barring injury. Pitta, though, is clearly the No. 1 tight end. Daniels hasn't been sharp early in training camp. Phillip Supernaw, who was added after an offseason tryout, has a history with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in Houston and has an outside shot to earn a spot because this is an offense that uses a lot of tight ends.

Offensive linemen (9)

Monroe, Osemele, Zuttah and Yanda are the guaranteed starters, and Wagner has been solid as the new starting right tackle. During offseason workouts, Gradkowski was the top backup at center while Shipley and Jensen have been the second-team guards. Jah Reid makes his way on the 53-man projected roster after coming to camp in the best shape of his career. He's the top backup at tackle now. John Urschel, a rookie fifth-round pick, would go on the practice squad if he doesn't make the team.

Defensive linemen (7)

Ngata, Canty and Williams have been the starters to begin training camp. Jernigan and Urban, two rookie draft picks, have impressed coaches early in camp. Tyson earned more playing time after showing flashes last season, and Lewis-Moore has generated buzz this offseason. This would leave out Terrence Cody, a second-round pick in 2010 who is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

LINEBACKERS (9)

There won't be much change here because the Ravens return every linebacker from last season's team. The only addition is Mosley, the No. 17 overall pick in this year's draft. Because the Ravens aren't expected to keep 10 linebackers, the biggest decision is whether to keep Bynes or Albert McClellan, who has made the team the past three seasons.

Cornerbacks (5)

After the starting duo of Smith and Webb, there is a major dropoff. The Ravens took a hit when veteran Aaron Ross tore his Achilles while taking the conditioning test for camp. The other veteran backup, Dominique Franks, has yet to pass the conditioning test. That leaves Chykie Brown, who has struggled, and Asa Jackson battling for the No. 3 spot. There's a good chance that the Ravens will sign a veteran who is released at the end of the preseason. For now, the last spot will go to an undrafted rookie. Olatoye edges out Tremain Jacobs.

Safeties (5)

Elam and Stewart have been the starters to open training camp. Miles and Levine have been getting the most reps with the second team. Brooks, a rookie third-round pick, has been a mild disappointment because many expected him to compete for a starting job. He still makes the team because of his upside. The Ravens can keep Hill on the suspended list. He isn't eligible to play in the regular season until the middle of October, when the Ravens would have to make a decision on him.

Specialists (3)

There is no drama on special teams. Tucker, Koch and Cox team up for the third straight season.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Bernard Pierce learned how much attention is paid to an NFL starting running back after looking on Twitter following Saturday's practice.

It was reported that Pierce had walked off the field with a team doctor 30 minutes before practice ended, causing social media in Baltimore to explode. Pierce's Twitter account was overrun with comments such as "You suck" and "You're soft." Pierce, who left early because of effects from the heat, said he couldn't believe the response and blocked several critical fans.

Pierce
His injury status, weight and play during training camp has been put under the microscope. He's no longer the backup running back. With Ray Rice suspended for two games, the Ravens are looking for Pierce to carry the load in the running game.

"I just want to show that I'm dependable and I can be counted on," said Pierce, who has one career start. "I just need a chance."

The biggest question is Pierce's durability, which is why not finishing practice Saturday became the news of the day. In his two-year career, he's been on the injury report for 10 weeks for back, ankle, knee, thigh and toe issues.

What often gets forgotten is Pierce has never missed a game. He played with a right shoulder injury last year that needed surgery after the season.

"It was pretty painful," he said. "That's what we've signed up for. You have to play through it."

Even though Pierce was limited throughout offseason workouts because of the shoulder surgery, he has been full speed all during training camp. He came out of Saturday's contact practice with no setbacks.

"My mindset coming out for the first day of camp is that I can't think about it," Pierce said. "When you start to think about, you start playing outside your game. So, it was just full go for me. The first time I had an inside run, it was head on into the pile. You can't think about it at all."

Pierce has been the most impressive running back through the first week of camp, and it's the result of hard work this offseason. After the shoulder surgery, Pierce's weight had increased to an "embarrassingly" 248 pounds. Now, he's down to 222 pounds.

The weight loss is most evident in Pierce's elusiveness in between the tackles. He can make better lateral cuts because he doesn't feel the weight as much on his knees.

"He has seized the opportunity," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's gotten himself prepared for this challenge in front him. He understands he's got a test in front of him. This is it right now."

The Ravens are not only trying to rebound from the worst rushing season in their history but they're learning a new running scheme. Under new coordinator Gary Kubiak, running backs are expected to show patience with the zone blocking before making one cut and head upfield.

This change is not much of a transition for Pierce. He ran in a similar system while at Temple.

"It's just trying to get the hang of it one more time again," he said.

Pierce, a third-round pick in 2012, played a key role in the Ravens' Super Bowl run as a rookie. Like many on the Ravens' offense last year, he didn't live up to heightened expectations.

He struggled mightily last season and wasn't decisive in hitting the line. He had 44 more carries than his rookie season but finished with 96 fewer yards. His yards per carry average dropped from 4.9 in 2012 to 2.9 in 2013.

"It definitely is motivating and also was humbling coming from the year before," Pierce said. "I think everybody's intentions this year is to climb back up the chart and show everybody that we can get this run game started and we're still the Ravens from 2012."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Now that the Baltimore Ravens know they will be without Ray Rice for two games, they have to figure out who will be replacing him at running back when they face the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rice is coming off the worst season of his career, averaging 3.1 yards per carry last season. But he clearly remains the team's best running back.

Pierce
The Ravens' top choice to fill in for Rice is Bernard Pierce. A year ago, he appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season after being a key factor in the Ravens' Super Bowl run. Then, just like Rice last season, Pierce struggled mightily, averaging 2.9 yards per carry -- second worst in the NFL among qualifying running backs.

Pierce, who was limited all offseason after having shoulder surgery, looked to be in good shape as the Ravens opened training camp this week. Still, Pierce has one career start in the NFL.

“I’m very confident in Bernard. I've always liked Bernard," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a heck of a player. He’s worked very hard, he’s 217 pounds, [and] he's in the best shape of his life. He looked good out here the last couple of days. We'll know more by Tuesday once we get the pads on and seeing him move with the pads on and how the shoulder holds up -- that'll be important."

There are other question marks in the backfield after the Ravens were unable to lure the likes of Chris Johnson and LeGarrette Blount in free agency.

The Ravens' biggest free-agent addition at running back was Justin Forsett. He's been impressive in offseason practices with his elusiveness and burst. The Ravens consider him underrated, and he's the only back who has a familiarity with Gary Kubiak's offense. But there are concerns about the durability of Forsett, a smallish back who had a grand total of six carries last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The other options for Baltimore is rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro. Unlike Forsett, Taliaferro is a big, power back. The challenge for Taliaferro is adjusting to the NFL after playing for Coastal Carolina.

"I have a lot of confidence in all of our guys," Harbaugh said.
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There has been sweeping criticism since news broke Thursday that Baltimore running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games after he allegedly knocked his then-fiancée unconscious this offseason.

Two games? That amounts to losing Rice to a tweaked hamstring.

But the sole argument shouldn't be that the NFL was too easy on Rice. It's also a fact the league hasn't been harsher on domestic violence issues in the past.

Rice's punishment only falls in line with the league's disappointing track record on this issue.

[+] EnlargeRice
Rob Carr/Getty Images"My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident," Ray Rice said in a statement.
There's a precedent for first-time offenders like Rice. Many first-time offenders don't get a suspension of any kind, and many get suspended for less than a month if they are disciplined. In the past three years, only 12 players received more than four-game suspensions, and all violated league policy multiple times.

What worked in Rice's favor is Janay Palmer standing by his side in court, at his debacle of a news conference in May and at his face-to-face meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Palmer even married Rice a day after he was indicted by a grand jury in March on third-degree aggravated assault.

This isn't being an apologist for Rice. Goodell simply followed form.

"I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career," Goodell said in a letter to Rice.

Goodell certainly could have delivered a stronger message with Rice and made an example out of him for the rest of the league's players. But if Goodell had suspended Rice for eight games or the entire season, it would be difficult to see that punishment sticking.

Rice would have undoubtedly appealed a harsher suspension because no first-time offender of domestic violence has ever received such a punishment. He could cite two former Ravens, Fabian Washington and Cary Williams, who were suspended a combined three games after being charged with domestic violence. Rice could point to the discipline handed out to wide receiver Brandon Marshall in 2008, when the Denver Broncos wide receiver was suspended only three games (later reduced to one) after multiple domestic disputes.

Rice's punishment goes beyond the suspension and fine. It includes the tarnishing of his reputation. For six years, he had worked hard to build his character in the locker room and the community, becoming the spokesman for the area's anti-bullying campaign.

Now, Rice will be forever linked to domestic violence. Opposing fans won't let him forget about it whenever he walks into another team's stadium. Even fans in Baltimore will have trouble looking at Rice without thinking about that TMZ video in which he dragged Janay out of the elevator.

"As I said earlier, I failed in many ways," Rice said in a statement. “My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident. I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that.”

Domestic violence isn't isolated to the Ravens or Rice. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune database, 21 of 32 teams last year had a player on their roster who had a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record.

Perhaps until the league changes its sorry track record on this issue, it will continue to be a widespread problem in the league.

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