Boy, it sure does seem like Ray saves his best for games against the city of Pittsburgh. Between Rice's standout performance on Sunday night football, and Kenny Britt's incredible game-winning reception, yesterday was a very good day for Rutgers alumni in the NFL. Watching Foster and Brackett win with the Colts, and Brian Leonard with the Bengals was an added bonus. Tim Pernetti and Greg Schiano couldn't have scripted it any better themselves.
What's really interesting about Rice's NFL success is how he's doing it. From college, we all remember the crazy little kid who played like he was Brandon Jacobs or Earl Campbell. It's no wonder that Rice fell to the second round of the 2008 draft, based off concerns about his lack of size, limited top-end speed, and overuse in college. The naysayers questioned whether his running style would even be effective in the NFL, or how much longevity he'd have in a league where backs are disposable to begin with.
Well, we started to get a hint of the direction Rice was headed with his play as a junior two years ago, where Rice started to emerge as a receiving threat. Last year in Baltimore, he actually started to draw comparisons to Brian Westbrook, which had to give anyone who remembered Ray from on the banks a double take. What do you know, it turns out that Rice has started to emerge as an all-purpose threat out of the backfield as a runner AND a receiver, third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage.
There's one important distinction to draw though between Rice and other recent receiving threats like Westbrook or Tiki Barber. What truly made Rice so special as a runner (which I pointed out several weeks back with my argument as to why he wasn't very similar to Dion Lewis) more than anything else was Rice's consistent ability to keep the chains moving. It's not enough to just pile up raw statistics, as success in the NFL is correlated to factors like converting first downs. Willis McGahee may keep poaching Rice's touchdown opportunities, but he's clearly one of the most valuable young stars in the NFL. Between his stellar play, unquestioned work ethic, and humble personality, there really isn't anything negative to say about Rice.
I mean, when Ray Lewis of all people is giving endorsements after the game like
You know I tell you what, I'll tell you the craziest thing about everything is we feed off each other so much. You know, me and him, we have a special special bond and I tell every time we are about to do something in the game we just touch each other and just give each other energy. When I'm out there he's in my head, and when he's out there I'm in his head. Man and this guy from college, man, the respect, man, I always had for him it doesn't get no better. The most humblest guy I ever met in my life, man, and to see his spirit, to see him play, no just athlete gonna make those plays. It takes heart, it takes will, and and man, I can't praise him enough. It's just overwhelming to be on a team with this young man.
Well, there you have it. Couldn't have said it better myself.
edit: some killer quotes from Peter King's MMQB column this morning. Schiano should be bombarding every recruit on the East Coast with these.
"Every day, my coach, Greg Schiano, and my offensive coordinator, John McNulty, would be on me about my focus. I'd drop one, and they'd be like, 'Focus! Focus!' That's what I kept thinking about when I knew the ball might come to me. "