The ground trembles in the mid-morning light under the thundering stampede of hooves, earth and sweat as a tight group of thoroughbreds open up into a mad dash down the homestretch and on to victory in the race for the black-eyed Susans. While not 14 miles away from Pimlico Race Course, sits Ownings Mills and another stable of thoroughbreds who will soon be trotting onto a dew-covered field, hoping to showcase their abilities. But, these thoroughbreds are not horses at all. They are the Baltimore Ravens running back cadre of Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon, Javorious Allen and a slew of hopeful colts looking for their shot.
To understand the competition at Ownings Mills Stakes, we have to start back in 2017. At the beginning of the 2017 NFL season, the Ravens felt that they had upgraded their stable of running backs with the addition of pass-catching specialist, Danny Woodhead. The team, and fans, were understandably giddy to see what the triple crown of returners in Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon and Javorious “Buck” Allen could do after putting up a combined 1,190 yards in the 2016 season.
Unfortunately, that’s when it all went wrong. Before the season started, Dixon tore his knee up in practice and that set the stage for this unit’s early-season struggles. West managed a measly 138 yards from scrimmage in five games before being benched with a nagging hamstring injury. He wouldn’t see the starting role, or the field, for the Ravens again. Buck Allen didn’t manage much better in West’s absence. Woodhead, primarily an out-of-the-backfield receiver, was already out for the season by week two, and Dixon was suspended for four games after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Throughout the beginning of the 2017 season this unit stumbled and fans thought that the front office had backed the wrong horses.
To turn this stable around, the Ravens went out and picked up a little known, Irish-trained, thoroughbred named Alex Collins. Originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, Collins, had only managed 125 yards in 11 games for Seattle. But, as they say, sometimes a horse just needs a new pasture.
Collins was quick out of the gate after joining the Ravens. He soon picked up the offense, and the starting slot. With Kenneth Dixon and Danny Woodhead sidelined for the entirety of 2017 with injuries, and Buck relegated to a situational presence, Collins was on the fast track to success. Despite early fumbling woes, Collins fixed his carrying style and earned free rein from coach Harbaugh. Collins erupted for 973 yards in 12 starts and was Pro Football Focus’s number 4 overall running back in 2017. Collins earned media and coaching praise for his complete style overhaul and downhill, hard-nosed, running mentality.
That brings us up-to-date. With just under 100 days between now, and the start of the 2018 NFL season, the Ravens have a good problem. Despite the irony of that statement, the Ravens have a few too many running backs in their stables. Generally, the Ravens have gone to season with three or four running backs. Currently, they have six jockeying for position. Many of the new undrafted free agents only have an outside chance of making the Ravens final roster, but that’s not going to stop them from trying to pull even with the veterans.
The Ravens backfield depth chart, currently:
1: Alex Collins
2: Kenneth Dixon
3: Javorious Allen
T-4: Gus Edwards
T-4: Mark Thompson
T-4: De’Lance Turner
I don’t think it will be very exciting to watch this position in summer practice. But, I have been wrong before. Watch for Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner to turn some heads, based on their college statistics, but our front office know’s you don’t switch horses in the middle of a race. I don’t expect any of the UDFA’s to be kept through the season and you heard that straight from the horse’s mouth.