The mystery of Ricky Williams turned out not to be a mystery at all.
World traveler, former Heisman Trophy winner and onetime NFL rushing champion, the Ravens' newest running back was anything but enigmatic Tuesday in his first meeting with the press. He was insightful, reflective and engaging, seemingly content with life.
In an 8-minute interview conducted under a tent top in the middle of a downpour, Williams acknowledged past indiscretions but avowed few regrets. He said he was still a rebel at heart, but one who had learned to channel the rebelliousness.
More to the point, he was ready to contribute to a team with Super Bowl aspirations, playing a backup role behind Ray Rice in an offense dedicated once again to running the ball.
At 34, having outlived suspension, retirement and injury, Williams is all grown up. In 10 NFL seasons, he has rushed more than 2,300 times for more than 9,500 yards, and come away with a whole new perspective on the game.
"It's different," he said when asked if he likes football as much as he did before. "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. I appreciate the game and I love to compete. I use my mind more than I use my body, but still, the body is strong and I enjoy playing this game."
In Baltimore, Williams will help Rice in short-yardage situations and fourth-quarter run-outs. He probably will contribute in the passing game (he has soft hands and 159 career receptions). At 5-feet-10 and 230 pounds, he is solid in pass protection.
Williams' career unfolded in stages. He was a 1,000-yard rusher with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins before his marijuana use led to retirement in 2004 and suspension in 2006. He missed most of the 2007 season with a chest injury.
Along the way, he overcame social anxiety disorder, studied holistic medicine and found yoga. His career isn't without setbacks, but it is enduring.
"When I think back on those times, from the outside looking in, yeah, I was suspended and I was in a lot of trouble," Williams said. "Internally, I was able to travel, to see the world and to work on myself. All told, I am very happy with where I am today. It's hard for me to look back and say I have many regrets."
Williams chose the Ravens over the Detroit Lions this week, signing a two-year contract worth $2.5 million with another $1.5 million in incentives. In Detroit, he would have had a bigger role and more carries. In Baltimore, he believes he has a better shot at the Super Bowl.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Williams is a good fit with his versatility and running style.
"All the schemes we've run, he's run," Harbaugh said. "He's a downhill, hard-running guy. He's got some elusiveness, but he's not afraid to lower his pads and runs behind his pads."
Williams split carries with Ronnie Brown the last three years in Miami. He has rushed 20 times only once in his last 19 games. In a pinch, could he still handle 20 carries?
"I think I am a confident guy, so I have to say yes," he said. "I feel good. [That's] how I feel now, and I do a good job taking care of my body. And if I keep doing that, chances are I will stay healthy and I will be able to do whatever is asked of me."
Williams, who wore No. 38 at practice, already has bargained to acquire No. 34 from Jalen Parmele, although it's doubtful he'll play in Thursday's preseason opener at Philadelphia.
What the Ravens get is a clean-cut, presumably wiser version of the Ricky Williams who struggled with football early in his career. Underneath it all, he said he's still the same guy, though.
"It is just a mirror of my maturity," he said of his appearance. "I think we all go through phases and I think, at my heart, I am a rebel. I think I have found more productive and mature ways to express my rebellion."
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