Pumped enough for running back Ray Rice to sing the Pointer Sisters song, “I’m So Excited” and do a dance in front of a host of cameras. Yes, that actually happened yesterday.
Pumped enough for running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery to call Leach a “powerful stud” and say he’ll raise a fist in the air and yell, “Yes!” when the fullback walks through the door at Ravens headquarters after passing his physical.
It wouldn’t be confused with the excitement that we’d see if the Ravens had signed the top wide receiver or defensive end on the free agent market, but signing Leach, considered by some the top fullback in the NFL, created a bit of a buzz in Owings Mills yesterday.
“He’s a presence,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He brings the personality, I think, that we had a little more (in 2008) with (former Ravens fullback) Lorenzo Neal. He is a guy that we really were targeting all the way back, so we are happy to have him.”
Last season, Leach led the way for Texans running back Arian Foster to rush for a league-high 1,616 yards and 17 touchdowns, and the fullback was named the AFC starter in the Pro Bowl.
It’s a resume that, as you might expect, has Rice beaming, anticipating the type of season he can put together running behind the 6-foot, 255-lb. brick wall in pads.
“I watched what he did for Arian Foster, and he’s an amazing fullback,” Rice said. “He lays the wood on people. Everyone knows what his reputation is, and I just can’t wait to follow him. I said, ‘Look, I could probably trip and get five yards running behind him.’ All jokes aside, I’m just excited to have a guy like that in front of me, because he’s all about business and all about hard work.”
A former undrafted free agent in 2004, Leach has slowly elevated his play in each of his seven NFL seasons. Unlike Ravens free agent fullback Le’Ron McClain, Leach is a pure fullback, one who has no interest in carrying the ball (he only has three carries in seven seasons), but takes full pride in blowing up a blitzing linebacker or opening a hole by knocking a defender to the turf.
It’s that mentality the Ravens were looking to add this offseason. They had said their top goal entering the 2011 campaign was to improve the ground game, which averaged just 3.8 yards per carry last season (28th-best in the league), and return to more of a physical style of running. Leach will certainly help in those areas.
“He brings a more physical presence,” Montgomery said. “And he is more of a fullback mold, and not like Le’Ron, (who) is a two-way guy. Le’Ron can block and Le’Ron can also run the ball, but Vonta, basically his job - and he knows - he’s a road (paver) and he’s going to attack, attack, attack.
“Just this past season, he happened to have more pancake blocks - and what I mean by pancake blocks (is) he’ll put more linebackers on their back - than anybody I’ve seen in the last four years. So, that makes him a powerful stud at his position.”
Montgomery said that he still considers McClain an option for the Ravens, and isn’t ruling the free agent out of Baltimore’s plans until general manager Ozzie Newsome tells him McClain won’t return. But given the Ravens’ salary cap situation and McClain’s interest in maximizing his free agent status and earning more carries, in all likelihood, it will be The Rice and Leach Show in the Ravens’ backfield this season.
It’s a duo which everyone at Ravens headquarters is looking forward to seeing out at training camp as soon as possible, especially the guy in charge of getting the running game back to a high level.
“When you’ve got someone of (Leach’s) magnitude along with Ray Rice, and then you can put Anquan (Boldin) and Torrey (Smith) out on the field, along with the young tight ends, it just makes it hard to defend when the runs and the passes look the same,” Montgomery said.
“When you bring a guy into the fold like that, the teams in your division, they pay attention to it, because now it makes it that much harder to stop the running game.”