Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer 79d

Wonder when Alex Collins will be Ravens' top back? He does as well

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- With each productive game by Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh continues to say the young running back has earned more opportunities.

If you're wondering when Collins will get his shot at being the Ravens' No. 1 back, you're not alone. Collins thinks about it every day.

"Anything can happen and you always have to be ready," Collins said. "So, I prepare as if the next day I can be the starter. It's just a mindset thing. If I'm always prepared and I'm always ready, then I won't miss a beat if that time actually comes forward."

In a two-week span, Collins has gone from being a member of the practice squad to Baltimore's most explosive member of its running back by committee.

His violent running style has led to a 7.8-yard per carry average, which ranks third among running backs with at least 10 carries. Collins has rushed for a total of 124 yards, which are nearly the same amount as starting running back Terrance West (128) despite half the amount of carries.

"I like the fact that he gets yards," Harbaugh said. "He makes tacklers miss; he breaks tackles. I like guys that get yards on their own."

The Ravens need a back who can generate yards on his own, especially with unproven blockers on the interior of the offensive line (left guard James Hurst, center Ryan Jensen and right guard Matt Skura).

West and Buck Allen have never been that type of running back. West is career 4.0-yard per-carry back, and Allen is more of a pass-catcher in the backfield.

West and Allen have combined for 3.6 yards per carry this season. Collins is nearly producing that same amount after first contact (3.1 yards), which ranks third in the league.

This is remarkable work for a running back who was released by the Seattle Seahawks before the regular season and spent the first week of the season not on the active roster.

"He's been doing well since the day he got here," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's got a little speed. He's got a little quickness. He's got instincts. He's a sharp kid. He's hard-working. He prepares well. So, with hard work and preparation now, he can get this thing done pretty well."

Collins, 23, has done plenty of his damage late in games when the outcome had been determined. Still, it's difficult to overlook his big-play ability. He has broken five runs for 10 yards or longer, which trails only Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon, Jordan Howard, Dalvin Cook, Carlos Hyde and Todd Gurley.

From Collins' first run -- it went for 16 yards against the Browns -- he has been the toughest Baltimore back to bring down. Running over tacklers is something that Collins was taught long ago.

"Growing up, my older brothers were very aggressive and played the same position as well," Collins said. "They really had a hand on it as well, teaching me to being violent and relentless when I run because it helps in breaking tackles and just finishing strong. Those were the things that I'm always thinking about when I'm running the ball."

A 2016 fifth-round pick of the Seahawks, Collins is one of only three running backs in SEC history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in their first three seasons (Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden are the others).

He gained 125 yards on 31 carries in 2016 but finished his rookie season strong with 106 yards on 21 attempts over the last three games.

Collins reported in better shape this year, dropping 13 pounds to weigh 204. But the Seahawks waived Collins at the end of the preseason.

It wouldn't be unprecedented for a running back to go from the practice squad to the starting lineup. That was the exact path of West here in Baltimore.

For now, Collins has watched his carries slowly increase in his first two games. He's excited about the chance of getting more Sunday, when the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers and a run defense that ranks No. 22 in the NFL (an average of 123.3 yards rushing allowed per game).

"Every practice is like a game day for me, the way I prepare," Collins said. "If I am thrown into the fire, I know what I'm doing and I'm capable and ready."

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