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Ravens notebook

He's enjoying playoff run

Veteran Williams plays support role

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 21, 2012
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. - When Ricky Williams decided to sign a two-year, $2.5 million contract with the Ravens in the offseason, knowing his career was reaching its end, he said he limited his expectations.

“I learned a long time ago you don’t come into a situation with expectations,’’ said the 34-year-old Williams. “I expected us to win and we’ve done that.’’

When Williams was a 22-year-old Heisman Trophy winner with the potential to seemingly change a franchise, he dealt with all of the game’s scrutiny and pressure - from having then-Saints coach Mike Ditka trade all of the team’s draft picks to select him fifth overall in 1999, to being the back that was supposed to carry the Dolphins.

The NFL felt like something he needed to escape. He announced in 2004 that he was retiring at 27 after just five years in the league, following a failed drug test for marijuana. He said he planned to study holistic medicine and spend time finding himself. It shocked the Dolphins franchise and the fan base, and the backlash was strong, with some fans burning his jersey in frustration.

Ultimately, he spent a year away, returning with a different outlook on the game and his role. Football was an occupation, running back his job title.

“To me, first and foremost, it’s a job,’’ he said. “I definitely love what I do, but it’s a job. Whatever they ask me to do, I just try to do it.’’

He left Miami after last season on better terms, saying it was time.

“I was ready for a change,’’ Williams said. “But I think any time you start something new there’s an adjustment period. The guys here made it easy. It’s been a good year.’’

He ran for 444 yards during the regular season for the Ravens as the backup to Ray Rice. He quietly reached the 10,000-yard plateau, joining a club that includes just 25 others. A vegan as well as a yoga instructor, Williams has a personality that teammates respect, even if they don’t totally understand it.

“It’s been a good experience,’’ he said. “We have a great locker room, a great bunch of guys, and a great organization. So I’ve really enjoyed myself.’’

This is the deepest he’s been in the postseason in his career.

“It’s exciting, but as far as in the locker room and what we’re doing, it’s the same thing,’’ Williams said. “There’s just more attention. It’s a bigger stage and more people are watching, but the bottom line, what it all comes down to is we’ve got a football game to play.’’

Handed the job

When the Ravens cut Todd Heap, the franchise leader in touchdown receptions, last summer to create salary-cap space, it meant trusting second-year tight end Ed Dickson to fill his role.

Dickson was surprised by the move, but he was ready.

“You don’t go out there with the mind-set that you’re replacing him,’’ Dickson said. “You go out there with the mind-set that you’re doing your job. When I found out that he wasn’t going to be with the team anymore, I basically didn’t do anything different because he was a good mentor in that one year that I had with him. And he taught us the right way, myself and Dennis Pitta. You listen to those types of guys because there’s a reason they went to Pro Bowls.’’

Dickson caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season, becoming one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, catching 21 balls on third down.

“It’s dangerous how good we can get, myself and Dennis Pitta, with Joe Flacco and the chemistry we’re going to build this offseason,’’ Dickson said. “We win the championship this year, look for multiple championships.’’

Reed fully invested

Safety Ed Reed (ankle) had full participation, and was the only Raven on the injury report, listed as probable for Sunday’s game.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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