One of the Baltimore Ravens’ first position groups that got decimated during the team’s injury-ravaged 2021 season was their running backs. Before the regular season opener, all three of their top returning players at the position suffered season-ending injuries and were lost for the year before even taking a single snap in a nonexhibition game.
Both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were primed for huge seasons coming off of strong 2020 campaigns and suffered torn ACLs less than two weeks apart from each other. In between that time, Justice Hill suffered a torn Achilles.
Seemingly before the team could blink or catch their bearings, 2020 undrafted free agent Ty’Son Williams was the last man left standing and even he eventually landed in the coaching staff’s dog house for reasons that are still unknown despite having a standout training camp and preseason.
They were forced to turn to a lackluster pool of veteran free agents and still managed to finish with the third most rushing yards in the league last year according to Pro Football Reference. Their seasoned backfield featured the likes of Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murry, and for a short time even Le’Veon Bell, all of which were well past their respective primes.
Even though all three of their youngsters were expected to make full recoveries and be available at some point before or early on in the 2022 regular season, General Manager Eric DeCosta used both the draft and veteran free agent market to bolster the position group that is so integral to the success of the offense.
He used his last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to select former SEC standout Tyler Badie in the sixth round out of Missouri and following the Draft, signed Mike Davis on May 10, 2022. The Ravens also signed Corey Clement formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys just before the start of training camp on July 26, 2022.
All three of their new additions and Hill have looked good in training camp making plays in both the run and pass game while Dobbins and Edwards inch closer to full strength. Thankfully, Dobbins was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List–PUP on August 8, 2022, and is on track to be available to start the season. Having capable backups and quality depth to allow him and Edwards the ample time they need to ramp back up to pre-injury form is key.
Ravens’ running backs coach Craig Ver Steeg said in a press conference on August 8, 2022 that he “couldn’t be happier” with the team’s current depth at the position behind Dobbins and Edwards and that they will all see plenty of regular action in the preseason.
Mike Davis is looking to bounce back in Baltimore
After failing to capitalize on his first opportunity to be the lead featured running back in his hometown with the Atlanta Falcons in which he saw his role and snaps diminished with the rise of Cordarrelle Patterson, the seven-year journeyman is on his fifth team in five years and sixth overall. He is hoping he can prove that can still contribute to an offense in a multifaceted role thanks to a dynamic skill set.
“I think what’s helped me, as far as my career in this league, is being able to do whatever it is you need me to do,” Davis said in a press conference on August 8, 2022. “Wherever you need me to line up – outside, inside, run routes – being able to block [and] just being able to be on the field on all downs, I think that’s what’s kept me in the NFL these eight years
He admitted to reporters that the biggest surprise upon signing with the Ravens was how dense offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s playbook is compared to his stops in the past. He just missed out on the end of the Roman era in the Bay area by a year when he came into the league as an undrafted free agent of the San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
“It’s a lot,” Davis said. “When you watch this offense, on the outside looking in, seeing guys like Gus [Edwards], J.K. [Dobbins], Latavius [Murray], Devonta [Freeman], you would think it’s just run, run, run, until you get here and see how thick and big the playbook is. So, I was just surprised at how big the playbook is.”
He has impressed coaches with his versatility and ability to run a variety of plays and be used in a multitude of ways.
“Mike [Davis] is probably so far the Swiss army knife in the room,” Ver Steeg said. “From OTAs all the way back, it’s like, ‘Try this. OK, now this. OK, inside run, outside run, screen.’ He ran a slant in the OTAs that beat a linebacker inside and [he] just kept running and looked like a receiver. So, there’s things to his game that I feel like there’s just a wide variety. Let’s see in the game where the strengths really come. Type of runs, type of throws, that kind of thing.”
Hill aims to make his last year count
Prior to his injury, Hill had failed to climb the depth chart and carve out a regular role on the offense during his first two years in the league. After flashing at times as a rookie, he was mostly limited to a core special teams role where he strived and shined as a gunner. He now finds himself fighting for not just offensive snaps but for a spot in the final roster altogether and feels up to the challenge.
“I definitely feel a lot more confident and a lot better at things that I needed to work on,” Hill said in a press conference on August 8, 2022. “Coming out here every single day, every single practice, I just want to get better. That’s the gist of the whole room. We just want to get better and help each other get better. So, definitely been getting better throughout this camp.”
He has been showing off his ability to make plays in space and especially in the passing game which will help improve his odds of making the roster given that the Ravens plan to utilize their running backs more in the passing game this year and moving forward.
“I just want to make plays to help the team win, no matter what it is,” Hill said. “If it’s on special teams, if it’s playing running back, running the ball outside the backfield, or catching balls outside. I just want to be able to do everything to help this team win.”
Performing well in the preseason will be a prime opportunity for Hill and his fellow backfield mates to show what they can do against an opposing team in live games and the coaches can’t wait to see them capitalize.
“There’s a guy, if you think back two years ago, a really kind of defined role,” Ver Steeg said. “Parameter, speed, screens, utilizing all that. Well, he’s come back and shown parts of that even better than before. So, I’m excited for him. He’s a guy who can’t wait to get out and mix it up with another team.
Clement is a ‘Pro’s Pro’
The former Superbowl-winning, do-it-all jitterbug back is still drinking out of a firehose when it comes to learning the aforementioned incredibly dense playbook after just being signed a little over two weeks ago. However, his coaches have already been impressed by his study habits, work ethic, eagerness to get reps, and dynamic ability, calling him “a pro’s pro”.
“He knows how to adapt to an offense,” Ver Steeg said. “The things he brings to the game already, you can see his power, you can see his quickness, he’s got really good pass protection ability. On top of that, he’s a really accomplished special teams guy in this league. So, he brings a nice veteran element to the room, and really a pro’s pro approach to preparation, which is excellent.”