OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As surprising running back Alex Collins continues to see a larger role in the offense, the Ravens could find themselves with a crowded backfield in the non-too-distant future.
Averaging a league-best 6.0 yards per carry and ranking ninth in the NFL in rushing despite being 24th in carries, Collins is staking a strong claim to be Baltimore’s feature back. What that might mean for the rest of a group that includes two players currently injured — Danny Woodhead and Terrance West — remains to be seen.
“Guys who are productive, they always get more opportunities,” said head coach John Harbaugh of Collins. “That’s what he’s doing, and he has made the most of his opportunities. He is going to continue to get more and more opportunities.”
Harbaugh said Monday that Woodhead could return to practice this week for the first time since re-injuring his left hamstring in the season opener on Sept. 10. The Ravens would surely welcome back his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield, but his eventual activation from injured reserve would give them five running backs on the 53-man roster.
Re-signed on Oct. 10, Bobby Rainey would likely be the odd man out, but he has served as the primary kick returner in recent weeks and had a 96-yard touchdown against Chicago in Week 6. Return specialist and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Buck Allen has done a respectable job filling Woodhead’s role since the season opener, but he is averaging 4.5 yards per reception and 3.6 yards per carry, underwhelming numbers for a back who’s touched the ball 131 times this season. Still, it would be unwise not to maintain an insurance policy on the roster for the oft-injured Woodhead, who has appeared in only 22 games over his last four seasons.
That brings us to Terrance West, who’s been sidelined since injuring his calf early in the Oct. 8 win at Oakland and should be returning sooner than later. Despite beginning the season as the starting running back, West has pretty clearly been unseated by Collins and was averaging only 3.5 yards per carry at the time of the injury. He also doesn’t play special teams, which wouldn’t help his cause to be active as a backup on game days.
These are factors the Ravens will have time to ponder, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh could be faced with a difficult choice — or two — soon after the bye week.
“It will have to be addressed whether we can hold on to five running backs or not — assuming Danny is healthy soon and he’s out there playing for us,” said Harbaugh, adding that it’s a good problem to have. “That’ll be a decision that will have to be made. That’ll be a roster-wide-type of decision. We’ll have to compare all of our options and try to keep the players that give us the best chance or make us the strongest team.”