Leach is exactly the type of fullback Ravens needed

Team-first bruiser proves he'll do what it takes to win

August 20, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

If the Ravens were looking for a fullback who would be seen and not heard, they may have underestimated Vonta Leach.

Old-school head coach John Harbaugh won't have to worry about his new backfield bruiser making up a batch of T-shirts to advertise his desire for more touches, but Leach showed on Friday night he can make some noise.

You could hear him all the way in the upper deck when he gathered in a short pass from Joe Flacco and lost his helmet knocking Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler into another ZIP Code. It was a SportsCenter hit that made a big first impression on his new fans at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The team fed off the energy and the crowd fed off the energy and I think we scored on the next play, so it felt good,'' Leach said. "I just need a new chin strap to keep my helmet on."

Indeed, Leach was not finished. On the very next snap, he laid a big block on Chiefs linebacker Pierre Walters that helped spring Ray Rice for a 26-yard touchdown, but it was the hit on Siler that still had everyone buzzing after the game.

"It was a great message to the crowd — and I thought the crowd really responded — in terms of what Vonta brings to the table,'' Harbaugh said.

Clearly, Leach is the embodiment of what Harbaugh is talking about when he says he wants guys who play Ravens football, which explains why the Ravens were willing to make him the highest-paid fullback currently active in the NFL with a three-year, $11 million free agent contract.

It was actually kind of a chicken-and-egg thing, since Leach — who was pursued by at least four other teams — was looking for a team that played his style of football.

"It's a real physical team and that kind of drew me towards here,'' Leach said. "I know what kind of team we have on defense and I wanted to bring that element to the offensive side of the ball. …That's just the way I play. I'm a physical guy."

Don't interpret any of this as a shot at recently departed fullback Le'Ron McClain, who was a great asset to the Ravens organization before signing as a free agent with the Chiefs. He just never saw himself exclusively as a fullback after a surprising 2008 season during which he led the three-headed Ravens rush attack with 902 yards and earned his first of two Pro Bowl selections.

When the Ravens went back to a more traditional run scheme with Rice as the feature back and Willis McGahee as the short-yardage banger, McClain was pushed back into a standard fullback role and spent the next two years campaigning for more carries. His "McClain for RB" T-shirts were popular in the Ravens locker room, but you always had to wonder how that dissatisfaction with his role actually sat with Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

McClain also was on the field at M&T Bank Stadium on Friday night, but he carried the ball just once for two yards.

Leach has made it clear that he is here to block for Rice and new bruise-back Ricky Williams, and he brought some pretty impressive credentials with him from the Houston Texans. Last year, he helped clear the way for Arian Foster to lead the NFL with 1,616 yards in Foster's first full season, which garnered Leach his first Pro Bowl selection and made him the most popular fullback in the lockout-condensed free agent market.

He didn't make Ravens fans wait long to see why.

"I think we took some positive steps toward our running game tonight,'' Leach said after the Ravens' 31-13 preseason victory. "We've still got a ways to go to perfect this running game, what we're trying to build here. Once we get this running game going, it's also going to add to our defense, keep them fresh on the sideline."

That's got to be music to the ears of his head coach, who loves it when his players step outside of themselves and make it clear that the team comes first.

It's a beautiful noise.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.

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