Ravens' Rice feels fresh, ready to run vs Denver

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Ravens' Rice feels fresh, ready to run vs Denver

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It's the time of year when Ray Rice usually begins to feel the effects of being the Baltimore Ravens' go-to guy on offense.

This season, however, has been different. Rice had a combined 318 carries and catches over the 16-game schedule, the lowest total since his rookie year in 2008.

Part of the reason is that the Ravens (11-6) relied heavily on quarterback Joe Flacco, who set a career high in yards passing. In addition, rookie Bernard Pierce logged 108 carries as Rice's backup.

Rice isn't complaining, because he's neither tired or bruised as the Ravens prepare for their 18th game of the season, on Saturday in Denver against the top-seeded Broncos (13-3).

``I'm fresh in the playoffs. I'm healthy,'' the 5-foot-8 Rice said. ``This is the best I've ever felt, but obviously, that's because I've had a guy come in, and when he gets in there, and we don't lose a step.''

Pierce will get his share of carries against the Broncos, but the Ravens will be counting heavily on Rice to help establish ball control and, in the process, keep Denver quarterback Peyton Manning off the field.

``He's a great back and can obviously turn a little play into a 50-yard gain,'' Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda said. ``It's exciting to block for guys like that. You want guys like that on your team - playmakers. He's been doing that for us for five years. We know what he's about and how important he is to our offense.''

Rice had his fourth straight 1,000-yard rushing season and earned his third invitation to the Pro Bowl. His numbers during the regular season are usually impressive, but in the playoffs he's topped the 70-yard mark on the ground only once - a 159-yard effort against New England in January 2010.

``Obviously, I want to be a guy that's remembered by his playoff play,'' Rice said. ``It's time to step it up another level.''

Sometimes, though, his presence in the backfield is all it takes to help Baltimore win.

``There might be times where in the pass game I took out two defenders so one guy can get open,'' Rice said. ``There are times where there's a fake where Joe Flacco can fake it to me, and there's an over route coming across the middle. If it's being a decoy, that's sometimes what you have to be. I like having the target on my back.''

That bulls-eye is being shared by Pierce, who ran for 103 yards last week in Baltimore's 24-9 win over Indianapolis. Although Rice should get the majority of the carries Saturday, Pierce will see playing time, too.

``The fact that the altitude is probably going to be a factor as far as guys who are carrying the ball getting gassed, those two guys are going to take care of each other,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``That's something we've been building on.''

But Rice remains the focal part of the offense.

``Ray Rice is extremely important to this team,'' guard Kelechi Osemele said. ``If you don't have a running game you won't have a passing game. Guys will just pin their ears back and rush. Ray is also a great blocker and can slip out of the backfield and make some plays in open space, too. You can't really replace a player like that.''

During the regular season Rice fumbled only one time, and Baltimore recovered the loose ball. Against the Colts, he lost two fumbles. He accepted blame for the miscues, but vows it won't happen again. Ever.

``As a runner, there's a certain time where you have to be smart, and going to the playoffs, I have to be smart,'' he said. ``As a runner, you learn from it. It's not something that I'm used to doing, obviously. I'm used to scoring touchdowns and making plays. I will continue to try to make plays, but I'll be smarter.''

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Three things to know about Ravens fifth-round pick Matt Judon

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Three things to know about Ravens fifth-round pick Matt Judon

We are profiling Ravens draft picks heading into the start of rookie minicamp Friday. Here are three things you need to know about fifth-round pick (146), defensive end Matt Judon of Grand Valley St.

1. Judon had 20 sacks last season, more than any player in college football at any level.

That is the main reason the Ravens drafted him -- to harass quarterbacks. Judon is an impressive athlete at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. Size will not be a problem. Strength should not be a problem. Technique could be his biggest issue jumping to the NFL, but it’s hard to think of two better pass rushers to learn from than Ravens outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Judon is built more like Suggs, but both he and Dumervil have plenty of knowledge to share with Judon.

2. Don’t wonder if the jump from Grand Valley St. to the NFL will be too much for Judon.

Four other Grand Valley St. players are currently on NFL rosters -- CB Brandon Carr (Cowboys), WR Charles Johnson (Vikings), guard Tim Lelito (Saints), and OLB Dan Skuta (Jaguars).

3. Judon will have plenty of family rooting for him.

The West Bloomfield (Mich.) native has nine brothers and sisters. He will likely have some ticket requests.

Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds

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Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds

We are profiling the Ravens’ draft picks as they prepare to start minicamp Friday. Here are three things to know about sixth-round pick, WR Keenan Reynolds of Navy:

1. The biggest push to draft Reynolds came from assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

DeCosta, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and coach John Harbaugh were visibly moved talking about making the phone call to Reynolds. All of them admire the way Reynolds has handled himself at Navy, both on and off the field.

When Newsome made the call, he put Reynolds on speaker phone so that everyone could hear his reaction. “Everyone in the room could be a part of telling him that we picked him,” Newsome said. “It was a special moment.”

2. Reynolds is much more than just a symbolic pick.

The Ravens believe Reynolds can stick as a punt returner, and that he has the athleticism and work ethic to become a polished slot receiver. Reynolds has many qualities inherent to top punt returners – good judgment, vision, elusiveness, sure hands, and speed. The Ravens also like that Reynolds has been working with CSN’s Brian Mitchell, a former Pro Bowl punt returner with the Redskins.

“Fortunately, we have a great relationship with Brian Mitchell,” DeCosta said. “We did our homework on him. He’s a guy that was a player of interest to us throughout the process. We kept it very quiet and, and it worked out the right way.”

 3. The Ravens are willing to wait if military obligations prevent Reynolds from playing right away.

Naval Academy graduates are obligated to a five-year military term, but Reynolds has hope of being able to play this fall. The Patriots drafted Navy graduate Joe Cardona last year as a long snapper, and he was granted permission to play. Cardona spent one day a week working at a Rhode Island naval facility. Reynolds hoped a similar arrangement could be worked out for him.

“I’m hoping and praying, and I’m confident that this potentially could be the same type of situation with myself,” Reynolds said. “It’s a blessing that the Ravens felt I was worthy to take a chance on with the military obligation and my service commitment.”

Will Matt Elam make Ravens in 2016 after fifth-year option declined?

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Will Matt Elam make Ravens in 2016 after fifth-year option declined?

It was no surprise the Ravens did not pick up the fifth-year option on safety Matt Elam by Monday’s deadline. The bigger question is whether Elam even makes the team next season.

The 32nd pick in the 2013 draft, Elam has been one of the biggest first-round busts in team history. Some of the standout players who went after Elam in that draft include Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (44th), Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (48th), and Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (52nd).

Elam missed all of last season with a torn biceps, after underperforming in 2013 and 2014. Elam was a big hitter in college at Florida, but has struggled with missed tackles as a Raven, and has been even worse in pass coverage. With the Ravens acquiring safety Eric Weddle in free agency, and Lardarius Webb switching from cornerback to safety, Elam is expected to be a backup at best. He will compete with Terrence Brooks, Kendrick Lewis, and others for a backup role.

Elam is scheduled to make $1.327 million next season, before becoming a free agent in 2017.  However, Elam’s first priority is to secure his place with the Ravens in 2016.