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Hard work leads Ravens RB Rice to first Pro Bowl appearance

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ray Rice's Pro Bowl journey began, as most do, with grueling workouts in the summer.

These sessions didn't, however, take place at training camp with his Baltimore Ravens teammates.

They were held before camp in Rice's hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y. And the man putting the running back through his paces was Rich Tassello, a longtime assistant football coach at New Rochelle High. No one, including Ravens coach John Harbaugh, could have pushed Rice any harder than he was pushed during the series of early morning drills.

The idea was to make certain that the 5-foot-8 Rice would be ready to perform at his very best once camp began, thus enhancing the ability to make his second season in the NFL dramatically better than the first.

Two-thousand-and-forty-one rushing and receiving yards later, the efforts of Rice and Tassello clearly paid off.

"You've got to put in the work; that's your foundation," Rice said while preparing to represent the AFC in Sunday's Pro Bowl. "What it did was condition my mind and my body. I had to tell my mind and my body, 'I can do this, I'm ready to play.'"

Was he ever.

The only player with more yards from scrimmage than Rice was his Pro Bowl teammate, Tennessee's Chris Johnson (2,509). Rice ran for 1,339 yards and picked up 702 more on 78 receptions.

"I just worked for it," Rice said. "I came into the season competing with myself. I said, 'How good can Ray Rice be?' And that's where the numbers totaled up."

His season was defined by multiple game-breaking runs. During the regular season, he had three of 50 yards or longer -- a 50-yarder against New England in Week 4 of the regular season, and 52- and 59-yard dashes in Week 14 against Detroit. Rice also set the tone for the Ravens' 33-14 wild-card playoff pounding of the Patriots with an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.

He credits the blocking by the Ravens' offensive line for giving him the initial opening on those plays, but points to the receivers for doing the rest.

"When you've got a receiver blocking downfield, that's a recipe for a long run," Rice said. "Because it's usually one guy to beat back there, and once you get past him, that's the last line of defense."

Cam Cameron, the Ravens' offensive coordinator, believes in a running back being heavily involved in the passing game. That was particularly helpful for Baltimore, which lacked a dynamic receiver yet still was able to reach the playoffs as a wild-card team.

"It just feels good to know that I was able to be productive in an offense that works," Rice said.

As fate would have it, the AFC Pro Bowl squad is running an offense similar to the one that the Ravens employ because the San Diego's coaching staff is guiding the AFC team. The Chargers are still using the scheme that Cameron put in place when he was their offensive coordinator.

"We've got Norv Turner as our coach, and there's a lot of history between Norv and Cam," Rice said. "I'm familiar with the whole offense."

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) makes a deep catch as Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White (44) trails on the play during an NFL football game , Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.

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