Ravens fullback Vonta Leach has several nicknames like "The Hammer," "Coke Machine" and "Sweet Feet," but he already has made a name for himself as one of the best free-agent acquisitions in team history.
Only tight end Shannon Sharpe in 2000 made such an immediate impact as a free-agent signee on a Ravens list that includes safety Rod Woodson, receiver Derrick Mason, defensive tackle Sam Adams and defensive end Michael McCrary, who is in the team’s Ring of Honor.
But old "Sweet Feet" has brought instant success and helped running back Ray Rice, who tweeted on the day the Ravens signed Leach, "Let the fun begin," have one of his best seasons.
Since the off season when Leach signed a three-year deal worth $11 million, the Ravens have rushed for 1,996 yards with Rice gaining 1,364 on 291 carries. During the first half of this season, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron toyed with the idea of trying to make quarterback Joe Flacco the centerpiece of the offense.
But in the second half , the Ravens turned to Rice, who then turned to his 6-foot, 255-pound body guard, Mr. Leach.
"I'm just a physical guy," said Leach, in that good ole country boy accent from his hometown of Rowland, N.C. "Some guys don't like when you get the best of them. They try to give you a little cheap shot after the play or something. I'm a player that's not going to take much from anybody out there. I am the enforcer when I go out there on offense and if I see something that I don't like or I feel like someone is taking cheap shots at one of my players, I'm going to protect our guy."
Maybe we have another nickname, "The Enforcer."
In less than a full season, Leach has become one of the team's most popular players. Fans identify with his blue-collar work ethic and lack of notoriety.
With no apologies to former Ravens fullback Le'Ron "I want to be a halfback" McClain, Leach just wants to run over people. He thinks pile driving linebackers for a living is cool.
As a fullback, he doesn't carry the ball often but has enough pancake blocks to open a breakfast restaurant. It's a shame the NFL doesn't keep statistics on concussions caused, or teeth loosened, because Leach would be the league leader.
He should have a CD of his greatest hits.
"Well, everybody wants to run the ball, whether you are a fullback or a running back, but I've found my role and I've made my mark in this league as a blocker," Leach said. "I just know my role on this football team and my role in the NFL that's gotten me this far
"There are not a lot of guys that can block and catch the ball out of the backfield.I think fullbacks are a dying breed and you usually have one that can block and one that can catch. You rarely see a guy that can do both, so I think that's what has kept me in the league a long time."
And what about those collisions that could have registered on the Richter scale?
"I've had some good collisions," said Leach, smiling. "I've gone up against some linebackers, some future hall of famers, the Urlachers, the Ray Lewis, the Brooks that played for Tampa Bay. I've gone against some great guys. I'm just glad to go out there and be physical."
Sometimes Leach receives as much as he gives. Rising out of bed on Monday mornings are brutal. It's sticking one arm and one leg out at a time, and done very, very slowly.
"It feels like you've gone through a train wreck," said Leach, who is 30 years old. "Sometimes I can't even get out the bed and I walk around real slow with a limp. People ask me, 'Why are you walking around like you got a limp or something,' and I tell them, "No, my body is just trying to get back and adjusted."
Leachthough, hasn't slowed down. He was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad for the second straight year. It's no coincidence that where Leach plays, rushing yards pile up.
In Houston last season, Leach opened holes for running back Arian Foster, who led the league in rushing with 1,616 yards on 327 carries. Now, it's Rice's turn to be super productive.
Who is better between the two?
"Both of them are two great backs," Leach said. "Arian Foster came on the scene and had to work hard to get where he's is now. Ray Rice is a guy that everybody knew out at Rutgers and then he came in here and ran the ball four straight years for over 1,000 yards. That's hard to do in this league."
"Everybody always asks me all the time who would I pick and who's the best running back? I tell them, I want both of them because both of them are great backs," Leach said. "Both of them are complete backs. When I talk about complete backs I'm saying that both of them can run, pass, catch and block. You don't have to take either one of the running backs off the field because they are that good and they are the top backs in the NFL."
Rice is certainly glad to have Leach on his side.