OWINGS MILLS — Ricky Williams didn’t really look like the Ricky Williams the football world has come to know.
There were no dreadlocks, no beard in his Baltimore debut. And not only did a Ravens jersey appear strange on him, but it was also without his customary 34. Williams showed up Tuesday for his Baltimore practice clean-shaven with a tight haircut and wearing a No. 38 purple jersey,
After agreeing a two-year deal with the Ravens on Monday, Williams passed his physical Tuesday and practiced with his new teammates. It might be the lone session in which he wears No. 38, because he struck a deal with running back Jalen Parmele to get back the number he’s worn throughout his entire career.
Maybe it was appropriate that Williams wore an unfamiliar number, because the running back who joined the Ravens to be the backup to Ray Rice, is quite different than the star who broke into the NFL with the New Orleans Saints in 1999.
The Heisman Trophy winner’s career has featured failed drug tests, suspensions and a heralded, premature retirement. He’s also accounted for 9,565 yards rushing, caught 329 passes for 2,523 yards and scored 72 touchdowns. But he never played in the Super Bowl, and that’s one reason why Williams picked the Ravens over the Detroit Lions.
“The opportunity in Detroit opened up, and it would have been a chance for me to play a lot and be able to contribute a lot,” Williams said. “But Baltimore is an established organization with a lot of vets, and … I thought I would fit in well in this situation and be able to enjoy myself and possibly win a Super Bowl.”
Now 34, Williams is no longer the free spirit who wore dreads and made no secret of his love for marijuana. Thus, the new, conservative look.
“It’s just a mirror of my maturity,” he said. “I think we all go through phases. I think at my heart I’m a rebel, and I think I’ve found more productive and mature ways to express my rebellion.”
Williams ran for 673 yards and two touchdowns with the Miami Dolphins last season while splitting time with Ronnie Brown. His role with Baltimore will be to spell Rice, who last season was backed up by Willis McGahee.
Williams has no desire to press for playing time. His days of being the featured back are behind him, at least as long as Rice stays healthy.
Asked to guess the amount of carries he will receive on a given Sunday, Williams replied, “You never know. Some games the defense is taking the run away and we have to pass. Other games we’re going to have to pound the ball to win the game, so it just depends. My guess is it will vary anywhere from eight and 12.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he won’t play Williams in the preseason opener on Thursday night in Philadelphia, but he expects to get plenty of mileage out of Williams once the season begins.
“I think adding Ricky into the mix makes us a better team, no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “We started talking about him a day or two ago. To me, he looks as good as ever. I’m talking about last year. He ran the ball well. He’s very good in pass protection. He understands pass protection. That’s the key. So, it’s a big addition for us.”
Williams said “football is how I put food on the table,” but insisted his passion for the game hasn’t waned.
“It’s different. I think I respect the game more and I appreciate the game more than I did, but I’m not 20 years old anymore, so my priorities are a little bit different,” he said. “But I appreciate the game and I love to compete. I use my mind more than I use my body, but still, my body’s strong and I enjoy playing this game.”
He signed a two-year deal because that’s precisely how long he intends to keep playing football.
“I’ll be 36 when my contract’s up,” Williams said. “I think I’ll be ready to do something else at that point.”