Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said running back Alex Collins is on a short leash after two fumbles in three games, but Collins said he is determined to hold on to the ball and his job after evolving from a practice squad player to the Ravens' leading rusher in a month.
Despite missing the first game while on the practice squad, Collins leads the Ravens in rushing with 206 yards on 25 carries, an 8.2-yard average that suggests the big-play potential the other running backs -- Terrance West and Buck Allen -- haven't displayed.
West, who started the first three games before being supplanted in the starting lineup by Collins, has 37 carries for 121 yards (3.3 average) and both of the Ravens' rushing touchdowns. Allen has 45 carries for 159 yards (3.5) and has emerged as the Ravens' top third-down back with Danny Woodhead on injured reserve. Allen is tied for the team lead in receptions with 16 catches for 85 yards.
Collins rattled off a 50-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers Oct. 1 -- the longest by a Ravens back since 2014 and the longest of his two-year career.
But he also fumbled in Ravens territory, which led to a Steelers touchdown, and Harbaugh made it clear Collins' role will be jeopardized by such plays.
"He won't get any more opportunities" if the fumbles continue, Harbaugh said after the game. "The leash isn't going to be long on that. When you come in here and drop the ball however many times he has dropped, I'm not going to tolerate it. I like him. He's a good kid, and he makes plays, but he has to hold on to the football."
Fumbling has been an issue for Collins in the past. He fumbled 17 times (losing nine) in three seasons at Arkansas, and had two fumbles last season among 31 carries while a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
Still, Harbaugh said Oct. 2 that the Ravens running backs are not "quote-unquote fumblers," though he said the coaching staff will be working with Collins on ball-carrying technique and ball security. West has also lost a fumble this season.
"Once you feel a guy is a fumbler, you're pretty much done with him," Harbaugh said, "but, none of our guys I feel that way about. I think all of those guys are conscientious and just need to focus a little more on holding on to the football the right way. I'll say this: We can't be turning the ball over. That's just it. We just cannot be turning the ball over. That's not the way we're going to win games around here."
Collins, a fifth-round pick by the Seahawks last year, carried 31 times for 125 yards as a rookie but did not make Seattle's 53-man roster. He was signed to the Ravens' practice squad Sept. 5 and then promoted to the active roster before Week 2.
The fact that Harbaugh has shown patience with Collins shows the Ravens value his big-play potential, even if it comes with the risk of a fumble. But Collins insists his fumbles are behind him, and he said Harbaugh and running backs coach Thomas Hammock have been encouraging despite the miscues.
"They just told me to put it behind me and don't let it distract me from what I need to do on the next play. ... I'm finishing my plays with two hands on the ball at all times from now on," Collins said.
"I just got to hold myself accountable and not let it happen again."