OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — J.K. Dobbins was injured last year in a preseason game — a fact that still gnaws at him — and only now is he starting to look healthy enough to be a standout running back again.
It's been a long road back, but he's kept his sense of perspective.
“A lot of people can’t even see, or talk or things like that, or even walk. There are veterans walking around — I know it’s a sensitive subject — but I have much respect for veterans and guys that are in the military because they do lose legs and things like that,” Dobbins said this week. “I kind of lost my leg in a sense, but God blessed me with the ability to walk again. I know many people don’t get to walk again, so I stay positive."
Dobbins missed all of last season following a knee injury and has played only seven games in 2022, but he's rounding into form just when the Baltimore Ravens need him most.
With Lamar Jackson nursing his own knee problem, Baltimore could use as much production as possible from its running backs. In the three games since his most recent injured reserve stint, Dobbins has run for at least 120 yards twice.
“The running backs have done a tremendous job,” rookie center Tyler Linderbaum said. “Making us look a little bit better than what we are. Just the holes they see, their ability to get through holes and pick up those extra yards, breaking tackles and stuff like that."
Jackson has not practiced since he was injured Dec. 4 against Denver. The Ravens managed to win that game, then took two of the next three and wrapped up a playoff spot. Baltimore hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
Dobbins returned in Week 3, but he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry in his first four games. Then he went back on IR and missed the next six.
Since returning a second time, he's averaged 7.6 yards per attempt. He had a 44-yard run against Pittsburgh on Dec. 11, then a 37-yarder against Cleveland the following week. It's those long runs where Dobbins says he still feels the effects of the time away.
“I heard that I ran like 20 miles per hour I want to say on the one run I had against the Steelers, and I was like, ‘Dang,’” he said. "It’s just that extra one or two miles (per hour) that are the difference. It’s the last little bit of me. That’s what makes me, me. I’m not all the way there, but I’m getting there.”
The Ravens have relied on their running game for years now, but Jackson is responsible for a lot of its effectiveness. With him out — and with the receiving group also weakened by injuries — Dobbins and running back Gus Edwards may be the team's top offensive threats.
Those two running backs both missed the 2021 season because of knee injuries.
“I really never talk about it because I’m always positive and I don’t want anyone to think I’m pointing fingers at anyone, but I got hurt in a preseason game. I played every single preseason game that year, and didn’t make it to the season,” Dobbins said. “Just imagine if I didn’t get hurt in that preseason game. I would’ve played the whole year last year, and then I would have been probably better right now then I am this year.”
That frustration is understandable, but the closer he gets to 100%, the more rosy the outlook for Dobbins and the Ravens.
“I think we run the ball really well and us running backs run the ball pretty well. So, I think it could definitely take control of a game,” he said. “I know there are some high-powered offenses out there. We can maybe neutralize them a little bit with the run game, so we’ll see when we get to the playoffs.”
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