OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — As Ricky Williams draws closer to the end of NFL career, he’s playing less and enjoying it more.
Since winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas and joining the New Orleans Saints in 1999, Williams has amassed nearly 10,000 yards rushing and scored 73 touchdowns. He has had five 1,000-yard seasons and served as a workhorse for both the Saints and Miami Dolphins.
Now 34, Williams has assumed a backup role with the Baltimore Ravens. Playing behind Ray Rice, Williams has gained only 230 yards on 54 attempts, exceeded double-digits in carries only twice and has scored one touchdown in nine games.
Williams isn’t complaining. In fact, he can’t remember being happier.
“It’s been interesting,” Williams said Wednesday. “It’s been an adjustment for me, but I love the organization and I love my teammates so I’m having a good time. I’m enjoying myself. Anytime you play a team sport, the success of the team really makes everything better. It’s nice.”
Williams played a similar role last season in Miami, where he averaged 10 carries per game. This season he’s had five or fewer attempts in a half-dozen games.
“I wasn’t sure what I came here to do. It was a wait-and-see opportunity,” he said.
The Ravens were looking for someone to give Rice a rest when they gave Williams a two-year contract with a maximum value of $4 million and a base value of $2.5 million.
“Ricky’s played the role exactly that we would like for him to play,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a very good back. He’s run the ball hard, he’s broke tackles, made plays for us. Ricky’s a big part of what we’re doing, and I’m sure glad we got him.”
Williams led the NFL with 1,853 yards rushing in 2002 and made the Pro Bowl. But he’s also been suspended for violating the league’s drug policy and retired briefly in 2004.
His ability to combine speed and power has not diminished, and this summer he was pursued by several teams before finally choosing the Ravens over the Detroit Lions.
“If I’d have gone to the Lions, I’d probably have a chance to touch the ball a little bit more,” Williams said. “But I liked the veteran leadership here and the opportunity this team had to go deep in the playoffs. Since I’m coming to the end of my career, I thought it would be nice to end it on a good team.”
Funny thing is, the Lions turned out to be pretty good, too.
“That thought has crossed my mind, but I like it here and I’m glad I chose to come here,” he said.
Williams has enjoyed being a part of the Baltimore locker room, and the Ravens are delighted to have him in the mix.
“Ricky Williams, he’s one of those mythical running backs, like, `Wow, that’s Ricky Williams,”‘ linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s always been good to play against him, but it’s even better having him on your team. With a locker room like this, with so many different personalities, it seems like he fits right in. He’s very cool, very laid back, a great teammate.”
Williams believes his work load will increase once the Ravens get their offense in gear. Rice had only five carries last weekend and Williams got only three attempts in a 22-17 loss at Seattle.
“When the offense does well and we’re on the field more, then obviously there’s more opportunity for me to play,” Williams said. “The coaches see the way that I practice and know my track record. I think when the offense becomes more consistent and we actually have more plays and run the ball, I’ll have more of a role.
“But it’s fine now. At this point, my focus is just to finish my career strong. I’m not even thinking two or three years down the line. But one positive about not carrying the ball is my body does feel good.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)