Ray Rice can now focus on football

Good news had been harder to come by than rushing yards for Ray Rice.

But his acceptance into a pretrial diversion program on Tuesday should lead to a pending assault charge against the Ravens running back getting dropped.

It could also mark a significant milestone if Rice ultimately redeems himself following a nightmarish 2013 campaign that spilled into the offseason.

A video of Rice dragging his fiancée following a mid-February fight in Atlantic City went viral and ultimately led to his indictment in late March for allegedly hitting Janay Palmer, who is now his wife.

The pretrial diversion program will allow Rice to avoid jail time as well as a conviction on his permanent record. That doesn’t mean the three-time Pro Bowler is in the clear as he tries to rehabilitate his once-pristine image and revive his football career.

Rice is still subject to discipline for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and commissioner Roger Goodell has never hesitated to come down on players who tarnish the league’s image.

Goodell may feel compelled to discipline Rice and even suspend him for the start of the 2014 season considering how closely others who have been punished by Goodell will be watching.

However Goodell proceeds in this matter, Rice can at least be optimistic that he is on the road back and that he can largely focus on football. Few if any players will be more motivated than Rice going into next season.

He rushed for 660 yards and four touchdowns and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in 2013. A sputtering running game was one of the main reasons why the Ravens slipped to 8-8 and did not get the chance to defend their Super Bowl title in the playoffs.

And it only got worse for Rice after the much-publicized altercation in Atlantic City delivered a jarring hit to his reputation.

His acceptance into the pretrial diversion program doesn't put all of Rice's troubles behind him.

But it is a start to working his way back, and given how the last year has played out for Rice, he will probably take what he can get right now.