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Ravens training camp preview: How the Ravens can maximize their backfield touches

Ravens training camp preview: How the Ravens can maximize their backfield touches

Rostered running backs/fullbacks: Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard, Bronson Rechsteiner

Last season, the Ravens were one of the most efficient offensive teams in the NFL. The trick, however, was that they did a majority of their work with their backfield. 

The Ravens rushed for a league-record 3,296 yards as a team on 596 carries, good for the most yards ever gained on the ground by an offense. They ran for 206 yards-per-game on 5.5 yards per carry, all the best figures in the NFL by a wide margin. 

But what made the Ravens’ offense unique was not just that they ran the ball well, but how it made the offense tick. 

According to Pro Football Reference, the Ravens’ earned 100.56 expected points contributed by the ground game — a figure used to estimate the expected point value of a run play based on yardage gained, down, distance and field position. The next best team in the NFL was the Cowboys with 37.08 expected points. Compare that to the passing attack, where the Ravens’ 100.56 figure would’ve placed them 13th in the NFL — in the passing category. 

Essentially, the Ravens ran the ball as well and as efficiently as a slightly above average passing attack in the NFL. And as mounds and mounds of data continue to suggest passing the football is far more conducive to success than the outdated and antiquated rushing styles of ground and pound football, the Ravens turned the league on its head with a deep and talented host of backfield standouts. 

Naturally, the Ravens added to that crop and drafted Ohio State phenom J.K. Dobbins with the 55th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to pair with Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. 

The question now, however, is who gets the touches, when they do so and how they do. 

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Ingram, the team’s workhorse last season, had 202 rush attempts and ran for five yards-per-carry. Edwards spelled Ingram and ran the ball 133 times. Hill saw the field the least out of the three and had just 58 carries in 16 games. Both Edwards and Ingram earned five yards or more per carry.

Patrick Ricard, the team’s fullback and defensive lineman who made his first Pro Bowl in 2019, didn’t record a carry and only was targeted 11 times in the passing game. Essentially, Ricard was there to plow the way for the league’s best backfield. But while his value to the team last year wasn't necessarily prevalent, it shouldn't go understated. 

The backfield wouldn’t have been what it was, though, without the absurdity of Lamar Jackson’s MVP season. Jackson rushed for a quarterback record 1,206 yards on 176 carries last season. His ability to freeze linebackers and edge rushers allowed the Ravens’ running backs to have wide-open lanes all season long and created mismatches few defensive teams are equipped to handle.

Now, with Jackson envisioning himself running less than he did a year ago, a greater emphasis will be placed on the running backs to handle a bigger load both on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield. 

While Ingram was highly efficient catching passes last season (he had 26 receptions and five touchdowns), none of the team’s backs — including Dobbins at Ohio State — were true pass-catching threats. Unless one of them takes a step forward in that regard, the snaps at the running back position could vary week-to-week, dependent upon matchups and scheme. 

Of course, the Ravens have a decision to make as to how many running backs they’d like to keep. Last year, they had three on the roster for the duration of the season. This year, they might not have that luxury. 

Baltimore could make up the roster spot it had last season by only carrying two quarterbacks instead of three, or it could look to trade Edwards or Hill in training camp should an injury occur elsewhere in the league. The trade compensation, however, likely wouldn’t net the team much in return and the two backs could be more valuable on the roster than not.

If the Ravens keep all four, they’ll have to find out what works best for the offense: Feeding a one-two punch backfield, or a running back by committee system.

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Last year, Ingram averaged 13.5 carries, Jackson averaged 11.7 and Edwards averaged 8.3. As a team, they averaged 37.3 per game. 

Should the Ravens decide to operate like they did last season with that trio, or any trio, earning 89.8 percent of the team’s carries, how hard Dobbins’ transition is to the NFL could determine whether or not he supplants Edwards, Ingram or even Jackson in the gameplan each week. But it's important to note his selection at 55th overall — the Ravens didn't draft him to sit on the bench. In any scenario, Dobbins should be included in the conversation.

And as the season wears on, it’s possible Dobbins and Edwards slowly handle more of the reps to keep Ingram, now 30-years-old, fresh for a late-season push. With 1,777 NFL touches under his belt, Ingram is on the wrong side of the age curve — especially for running backs.

That conversation still leaves out Hill, who in a limited role last season, showed flashes of why the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round of the 2019 draft with his speed and acceleration. If the Ravens want to get as much speed on the field as possible, Hill is likely the answer. 

All of that is to say the Ravens have options as to how they’d like to attack the ground game. While they’ve expressed a desire to throw more in 2020, they’re certainly not going to abandon the run game altogether. With the talented host of running backs the team has, it’s one of the highest floor positions on the roster.

And compared to the rest of the league, their talented rushing attack is far more than simply average.

Of the 32 teams in the NFL last season, 22 of them had negative expected points contributed by the run game. The league average was -11.1 points and the last-place team, the Steelers, posted a number 165 points behind the Ravens: -64.88.

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How 'Big Truss' helped define the 2019 Ravens season

How 'Big Truss' helped define the 2019 Ravens season

For nearly two months, all anyone in Baltimore — and around the NFL — could talk about were the Ravens. Those conversations likely spanned from Lamar Jackson to the team’s 14-2 regular season. 

It wouldn’t be a surprise if someone said, “Big Truss,” during that conversation, either. 

In what started as a simple phrase between Jackson and Marquise Brown which originated from South Florida, the saying “Big Truss” grew to something much bigger than something between two people. It was something woven into the fabric of the 2019 Ravens, even if they didn’t know it.

“If they aren’t laughing at you, your dreams aren’t big enough,” coach John Harbaugh said after the team’s final regular season game. “So, we have big dreams, big goals, big ambitions, big faith, Big Truss — that was not planned, either."

As the phrase “Big Truss” graced signs and t-shirts and tattoos, it became a rallying cry for the NFL’s best team in the regular season. 

“Big Truss” was printed on doughnuts and used as names for fans on Twitter while everyone from Jackson to Mark Ingram to Harbaugh to Justin Tucker took their turns in the spotlight due to their play on the field. When they got the opportunity, they made sure to say “Big Truss.”

But what went under the radar about “Big Truss” was that the Ravens weren’t a fun team to follow simply because they had fun postgame. Rather, they were one of the most fun teams in the NFL on and off the field as well. 

Their quarterback had one of the most electrifying seasons an MVP player has ever had, they broke the single-season rushing record and they dominated talented teams each week during the regular season. The defense was opportunistic and boasts a likely future Hall-of-Famer in Earl Thomas and was pieced together by a handful of players that, as of September, were looking for work. 

The Ravens made football fun in 2019, as their personalities on the field shined just as bright, if not brighter, as they did off the field. 

“Big Truss” spread across the NFL and, as could be expected, was the source of mockery once the Ravens lost to the Titans. In the offseason, it even reached the presidency.

Make no mistake, the phrase wasn’t the reason why the Ravens were fun to watch in 2019. That was due to every Jackson spin move, Ingram touchdown and double-digit victory the team had. 

“Big Truss” just was the rallying cry behind it all. 

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Looking back at the Ravens' best 'Big Truss' moments

Looking back at the Ravens' best 'Big Truss' moments

Everyone knows that the “Big Truss” phrase took over the Ravens and the city of Baltimore in 2019.

But what were some of the best moments? 

Here’s a list of some of the times “Big Truss” took over Baltimore and the NFL landscape.

The first usage

It’s natural to start at the beginning. 

The first time “Big Truss” was said in a Ravens’ press conference was when Mark Ingram took to the podium on Nov. 17, after the Ravens obliterated the Texans, and gave an impassioned speech for Lamar Jackson’s MVP race. 

He ended his press conference with the phrase for the first time it had been heard on a public scale.

“I’m bout that,” Ingram said, introducing Jackson to the podium. “Big Truss. Lamar Jackson, in the flesh.”

The next week, Ingram had to answer for what exactly he meant.

“It’s something that he (Jackson) says, and I’ve been saying it to him for a little while,” running back Mark Ingram said. And then y’all just caught it on camera. It’s just a little something that we have going. I can’t really expand on it, but we know it’s love, big love. Something along those lines.”

Justin Tucker gets into it

Two weeks after Ingram’s press conference ended with “Big Truss,” Tucker got his turn. 

He had just kicked a game-winning field goal to knock off the 49ers in what many viewed as a potential Super Bowl preview, when he got his rare turn at the postgame podium to give a press conference.

“In the spirit of my teammates who have been up here to talk to you guys the last few weeks, I should say something inspiring like, “Big Truss!” Tucker exclaimed. “And I’ll open it up for questions.”

Ingrained in Harbaugh

The phrase became so mainstream in December that coach John Harbaugh began to say it — without even realizing it. 

After the team’s Week 17 win over the Steelers to conclude the regular season, Harbaugh gave his weekly Monday press conference and spoke about the feeling surrounding the team as it compared to previous years. 

Then, while talking about how they’d surpassed most everyone’s expectations, he let it slip in.

“If they aren’t laughing at you, your dreams aren’t big enough,” Harbaugh said. “So, we have big dreams, big goals, big ambitions, big faith, Big Truss — that was not planned, either.”

He didn’t set out to say it, but it was so woven into the fun of the final month of the season, it snuck in anyways.

Truzz Trump

The weirdest moment of the “Big Truss” era from the Ravens happened when it wasn’t even truss anymore.

Jackson changed the term to “Big Truzz” after he said someone tried to sue him for “Big Truss.” Jackson got a tattoo of the phrase on his chest. 

After President Donald Trump complimented Jackson and his selection to the Ravens at 32nd overall, Jackson responded with the phrase “Truzz Trump,” which ignited a storm on social media. 

Jackson later said that he was just accepting the compliment and that saying “Truzz Trump” was his way of doing so. 

Either way, the phrase went from a simple saying between Jackson and wideout Marquise Brown, two South Florida wide receivers, all the way to the president of the United States.

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