When Ravens running Ray Rice exited the tunnel and was introduced to the home crowd during Thursday’s preseason opener against the 49ers, he drew a standing ovation.
There were no audible boos, if any existed, for the three-time Pro Bowl runner following a rocky offseason where he was arrested for felony aggravated assault that led to a two-game NFL suspension for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy. Rice was also fined $529,411.
“Our fans are the best fans in the world,” Rice said. “I can’t thank them enough, No. 1, for sticking by me and supporting me throughout my trials and tribulations. I owe my best to these fans for giving me that kind of ovation. I’m looking forward to giving them the best effort that I can every week throughout the season. ..
“That means the world to me. Everything I went through, I don’t take anything for granted anymore, especially going out there and playing in front of our fans. It’s a lot of respect that I have to go out there and earn because of the position that I put myself in.”
Rice rushed for 17 yards on three carries , averaging 5.7 yards during a brief appearance. That included a sharp 6-yard run on the Ravens’ first play of the preseason as Rice adeptly executed offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s trademark zone-stretch run.
“For me personally, it felt good to get out there and show that I still have a burst,” Rice said. “I was able to move and get into my correct reads with this new offense. It was definitely great to gel with my teammates.”
Rice is noticeably quicker and leaner following the worst season of his NFL career as he rushed for just 660 yards and averaged 3.1 yards per carry last season while struggling with hip and quadriceps injuries.
“I do feel different,” Rice said. “I guess it’s safe to say I feel like back when I was a rookie. That’s the weight I’m continuing to try to play at. Obviously, what I went through when I added a little bit of extra weight, you can’t make the cuts like you want to do.
“Training this offseason and focusing on the stuff that I needed to focus on, diet, exercise, all the stuff I needed to do, finally I got down to the weight I was comfortable at and went out there and executed.”
Meanwhile, backup running back Bernard Pierce rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Pierce is slated to start in place of Rice during the first two games of the regular season.
Like Rice, Pierce has lost a lot of weight since finishing last season at roughly 230 pounds and ballooning to 250 pounds following offseason rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder.
“It’s definitely a one-cut system,” Pierce said. “I’m a running back, so I’m used to it. I’ve lost a lot of weight and am lighter on my feet. So, I look forward to running in this system. It’s not that complicated to run.”
Pierce fumbled once, but recovered the loose football. Reserve running back Justin Forsett lost a fumble.
“Bernard fought and got the ball back,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But you can’t put the football on the ground. We’re not going to be a team that gives the ball away.”