There's a good chance Ray Rice assumes the face of the Ravens franchise when Ray Lewis retires in a few years.
After all, Rice already has the first name to carry on the tradition, plus the penchant for making the big play. He's vocal when he needs to be, keeps his head down otherwise and looks to have a long and successful career in Charm City.
This season is certainly a testament to that notion. Rice is 74 rushing yards from eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark and is third on the team in receiving with 547 yards and 56 receptions.
Yet while Rice gets most of the glory (and rightfully so), it's easy to forget about the duo who is lending support (and a nicely-timed block) for the short, speedy tailback. Both Ricky Williams and Vonta Leach don't put up the staggering numbers that make fantasy owners drool, but without their contributions on offense, Rice would have little of the success he's had this season.
For Williams, his journey over the years is one of the most fascinating. His career began in New Orleans, where he totaled more than 3,000 yards in three seasons with the Saints. In 2002, Williams was the top running back in the league, rushing for a league-leading 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns. At the time, Williams looked to be headed to a Hall of Fame career.
Then, Williams fell off. Over the next six seasons, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards just twice, even playing only one game with the Dolphins during the 2007 season. He moved to Alaska, ran into trouble with drugs and looked to be out of the league only a short time after dominating it.
But with the Ravens, Williams has undergone a bit of a revival. Is he the stud No. 1 back for this team? No, that honor goes to Rice. But as a change-of-pace guy, Williams has flourished, gaining 4.1 yards per carry and forcing defenses to constantly be on guard, even if No. 27 is on the sideline for a play or two.
"Ricky is as advertised," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "He is a pro. He is a very physical downhill back. He runs those tackle-to-tackle plays as well as anybody in football. (He is) very good in pass protection, he can catch the ball. He is a complete back and he is a vet. (He is a) very hardworking guy who knows the game."
Williams' blocking buddy Leach certainly knows the game, as well as his role in the Ravens' rushing attack.
For the Pro Bowl fullback, his job is simple: pave the way for the ball carrier. It's one of the most physically demanding positions in the game, but so far Leach has picked up right where he left off in Houston and is a big reason why the Ravens have been so successful on third down. With Leach out in front, Rice has averaged 6.7 yards per carry on third-and-short situations, translating to an offense that is able to move the ball and take time off the clock.
Hey, that's just fine with Leach.
"He has been very important," Harbaugh said. "(Sunday) was a big challenge, because those linebackers were playing downhill into those holes. There were some major collisions with Vonta and (Cleveland's) three linebackers. He neutralized those guys to some extent and gave Ray a chance. We ran a lot of lead plays and Vonta was at the head of those lead plays."