The Baltimore Ravens’ backfield drew a lot of attention this summer for being overcrowded. Now, as the team gears up for its preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, little has changed.
Baltimore’s resident veteran tailback, Justin Forsett, has had a whirlwind couple of days. Forsett went from being out of work to being the Ravens’ starter seemingly overnight. With a Pro Bowl season in his recent past, it makes sense that Forsett retains the starting job. However, the 30-year-old journeyman is coming off a disappointing, injury-riddled season and, as such, probably doesn’t have the longest leash.
Two young backs behind Forsett will be jockeying for touches all year long, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon. Allen filled in for an injured Forsett last season and impressed with over 850 yards from scrimmage. Dixon, meanwhile, joins Baltimore after a phenomenal collegiate career that saw him score 87 total touchdowns, second-most in NCAA history.
Baltimore has an impressive fleet of running backs between those three alone, but it also boasts one other rusher who should be in line for work. Terrance West, a former Cleveland Brown, didn’t figure to be more than a camp body for the Ravens. However, an impressive August has forced Baltimore to take notice.
West looked good in the preseason, carrying the ball a total of 25 times for 101 yards and two scores. Notably, Baltimore sat the third-year pro out of its fourth preseason game. Given that many teams use that game as a way of deciding who the last few on the roster will be, that’s a strong sign that West had proven enough and Baltimore didn’t want to jeopardize his health.
Even before the preseason got underway, West was drawing rave reviews out of Ravens camp. West has taken some criticism throughout his career for maturity concerns and issues in blitz pick-up. He showed his commitment to preparation by dropping 15 pounds and has reportedly shored up his issues as a pass-protector. Perhaps most importantly, per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Ravens coach John Harbaugh sees significant improvement from West as a pure runner.
“I just think he looks good as a football player,” Harbaugh said. “I think urgency is a good word from a physical perspective. His running is urgent. He’s making cuts. He’s making really good reads. He’s quick through the hole, he’s quick into the hole. There’s no hesitation.”
Hensley referred to West as Baltimore’s presumed starter in a since-deleted Tweet after Forsett was cut. Of course, his re-signing throws a wrench into things, but it’s telling that West jumped a competent runner in Allen for the backup job. Forsett may be listed as the starter, but, per Hensley, he will share the backfield with each of his running mates.
Many times, committee backfields function without a hitch all season long. But, with so many mouths to feed, the Ravens are likely looking for a back to emerge as a clear-cut starter early on. Each back will likely get a chance to prove their worth in the season’s opening weeks, but, if one stands out, don’t be surprised if the Ravens look to one runner to handle 15-plus touches a game.
With how enamored the team seems to be with West, the opportunity to become the featured back is there for him to take. But, in order to earn that spot, he needs to impress with limited work.
Baltimore wants to see the “urgent,” aggressive runner West could be before they give him the keys to the castle. The inconsistent, indecisive runner fans saw in Cleveland, however, could quickly be usurped by Allen and even a returning Kenneth Dixon.
West is in a surprising spot. On name value alone, he probably enters the year as Baltimore’s least promising option. Forsett’s proven he can excel as a featured runner and both Allen and Dixon are talented young backs. The same could be said of West, but it didn’t take long for him to develop a reputation as a headache and a bust.
It’s a reputation he has the ability to shake. That said, he’ll need to shine early on in a crowded stable of backs to do. Otherwise, he could go from the dark horse to the black sheep in the Ravens’ backfield in a hurry.