TOWSON, Md. — Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has dominated the headlines this off-season due to a slow standoff with the Ravens over a long-term contract.
Though it’s unknown when the fifth-year running back will report to the Ravens — Rice is not expected to participate in any organized team activities this spring without a new contract — he was busy hosting nearly 700 boys and girls for his football camp at Calvert Hall on Saturday. It was a welcome break from the business side of the game and a chance for him to give back to a community that’s embraced him since his rookie season in 2008.
“This is quite frankly what I love to do,” Rice said. “I love the kids, I love being active in the community.”
Rice and several teammates including Torrey Smith, Vonta Leach, Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Arthur Jones, LaQuan Williams, and Anthony Allen interacted with young Ravens fans in a chance to set a positive example and teach life lessons that stretch beyond football.
“I want them to have fun, but at the end of the day, I want them to all leave here knowing that they’re all winners,” Rice said. “They all got the same opportunity that I had. That same opportunity that I had was not necessarily the NFL; it was to do right in school, respect your parents, and go ahead and do something in life because not all of us are going to go pro.”
Though he and agent Todd France did not address any questions relating to contract negotiations — there is growing optimism a new deal can be struck by summer — Rice assured anyone doubting whether he’ll remain in shape that his work ethic is second to none. His 2011 campaign in which he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage supported that notion considering the circumstances leading up to the season.
“Me actually working out on my own — and no disrespect to what they have going on over there [in Owings Mills] — but, quite frankly, with the lockout last year, I realized that I was going to have to do it on my own,” Rice said. “And I came back in the best shape of my life. Training is something that I never worry about; it’s something that you have to want. I have the burning desire to come back, not only for myself but to come back ready to play.
“Nobody ever had to beat me in the head to get up and work out. Anybody who knows my workout regimen, I’m probably done two before noon. I know training has never been my issue. … As far as being ready, I know I’ll be ready.”
General manager Ozzie Newsome raised a few eyebrows when the Ravens drafted Temple running back Bernard Pierce in the third round of April’s draft, but Rice acknowledged the need for another running back following the abrupt retirement of Ricky Williams after the end of last season. Many have speculated that Pierce might eventually replace Rice in the Baltimore backfield if the sides are unable to reach a long-term agreement, forcing him to play with the franchise tag in 2012 and, potentially, 2013.
But Rice sees Pierce as an asset and not a long-term threat to his tenure with the Ravens.
“One thing I know about the NFL — I’ve always said it — is one back really can’t do it all anymore,” said Rice, who hasn’t met the rookie yet. “I love for a guy to give me a spell or give me a [breather]. I was genuine and I was serious about saying Ricky Williams was the best thing that happened to me last year. This is the healthiest I’ve been. Going into my fifth season, this is the best I’ve ever felt and you have a guy who wants to take the load off you. You don’t get too many of those guys.
“But he’s a rookie, so he’s got a ways to go. I wouldn’t mind letting him get in there and getting a little banging. We’ve got some great backs [with] Anthony Allen and Damien Berry. It’s going to be some nice competition going in there.”
With no other tailback on the roster with more than a year of NFL experience, Rice finds himself as the elder statesman after working with more experienced backs such as Willis McGahee and Williams in his first four seasons. He’s eager to serve as a mentor, but the question remains when he’ll actually be present to do so.
“One thing I build with the group is I want to build a camaraderie,” Rice said. “I tell them, ‘Listen, we’ve got a long season. Take care of your bodies right now, don’t abuse it, and let’s get ready for a long season.’”
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear the entire Rice interview during his football camp at Calvert Hall here.