OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -In the second round of the NFL draft, Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome decided to take out an insurance policy.
Instead of selecting a potential starter for 2008, Newsome opted for running back Ray Rice. The reason: Baltimore didn't want a reprise of its lamentable 2001 season, when Jamal Lewis blew out his knee in training camp and the Ravens had no capable backup.
``When we got to the second pick, we had two offensive skill players there,'' Newsome recalled Wednesday. ``We decided to take Ray because of our experience with Jamal.''
Not only has Rice been a solid substitute for Willis McGahee, but he's also flourished in the starting lineup.
Subbing for an injured McGahee against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, Rice ran for 154 yards - the most by a Ravens running back since Lewis gained 167 in 2005 against Miami. While the rookie's performance greatly enhanced his diminutive 5-foot-8 stature in NFL circles, it came as no surprise to his teammates.
's going to be, since the summer,'' rookie quarterback Joe Flacco said. ``He gets in there, shows quickness and has the ability to make the first guy miss. That was huge for us Sunday.''
With McGahee battling knee, rib and ankle injuries for much of the season, Rice has started three games. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, ranks second on the team with 18 catches and also has returned seven kickoffs for 161 yards.
Even when he doesn't start, Rice has contributed as a third-down back for the surprising Ravens (5-3).
``How many plays has Ray made where he makes a guy miss or ran by somebody or ran through an arm tackle and got us a big third-down conversion on long yardage? I mean, that's just invaluable,'' coach John Harbaugh said.
Rice is the leading rusher in Rutgers history, but now he's just another guy learning how to cope in the NFL. Well, at least that's how he sees it.
``I'm at the point in my career where I'm just a rookie, so whatever I can contribute is fine with me,'' he said. ``If my role is to start, fine. If my role is just to play on third down, fine. I'm just cracking the surface. I've got a lot of football left to learn.''
At Rutgers, Rice received a whopping 910 carries over three seasons. That's a lot of pounding for a little guy to take, but Newsome insists Rice is built to take the punishment.
mall. He's not small. Ray is short,'' Newsome said. ``The guy weighs over 200 pounds. He's compact. He can handle it.''
The adjustment to the NFL has actually not been too difficult for Rice.
``I didn't expect it to be easy, but with hard work and perseverance, I've done OK,'' he said. ``I've been blessed and fortunate to get some playing time, but I'm happy to help the team any way possible.''
McGahee or Rice, it doesn't matter to the guys on Baltimore's offensive line.
``The holes are the holes. Sometimes it just depends on how fast a back is going to hit those holes,'' center Jason Brown said. ``Ray, with his explosion and lateral movement, he'll hit a cutback more often than Willis. As young as he is, Ray is a great back. It's nice to have him as part of the team.''
Especially after a 154-yard rushing performance in a 37-27 win on the road.
``When I found out I got that many yards, it was pretty amazing,'' Rice said. ``That's equal to like 200 yards in college. You cherish it.''

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