Bills castoff Leonhard thriving with Ravens

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
11:11
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Whoever would have thought Jim Leonhard would be lamented as a player who got away?

 
  Vladimir Cherry/US Presswire
  Jim Leonhard had had a nose for the ball during the postseason.

Buffalo Bills fans are bummed about it after getting an eyeful of their former backup safety on national television the past two weeks with the Baltimore Ravens.

Leonhard recorded seven tackles, an interception and half sack against the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round. He had five tackles, a forced fumble and recovery and a crucial 29-yard punt return to set up a field goal in Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Not bad for a player whose adjectives have included walk-on, undrafted, waived and unwanted.

"Jim Leonhard, he's a football player, and that's what I like about Jim," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason told reporters Monday. "I just like him. Throw away the 40 times. Throw away how big you are, how fast you are. Throw away all that crap. I just want a football player. You give me a football player, and I can win you a championship.

"Jimmy, he's a football player. We've got a bunch of football players on this team. Some guys might not be the ideal size. Some guys might not be the ideal speed. But you know what? They're going to play football, and that's all I care about. Give me a football player and I can get a championship."

Leonhard was passed over by every Division I college and every NFL team at least once.

He was a walk-on at Wisconsin but became an All-American by his sophomore year. He went undrafted and signed with the Bills in 2005. He made the 53-man roster, but they waived him right before the 2006 season. Nobody claimed him. The Bills eventually re-signed him, but let him walk when his contract expired after last season.

Buffalo chose to keep Bryan Scott and George Wilson as their depth safeties.

The Ravens signed Leonhard in April. He became their starting strong safety when Dawan Landry suffered a season-ending spinal injury in Week 2.

Leonhard's 85 tackles ranked fourth on one of the NFL's most feared defenses. He also had a sack and an interception, but he has gone off in the postseason.

Leonhard couldn't have been expected to play a similar role for the Bills. Leonhard's supporting cast in Baltimore includes such stars as Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed, and there aren't any players who resemble them in Buffalo. Leonhard would be the third-best punt returner for the Bills.

But Mason's comments on Leonhard underscores what Bills fans have seen of him in the playoffs -- the type of blue-collar player Buffalo could've found a way to use.

"I'm a competitor, and like to go out there and win," Leonhard said. "Whatever it takes on this team to win is what I want to do. I was fortunate enough to be placed in positions to make plays, and the fumble bounces right to me and things like that.

"Like I said, it's all about winning on this team. Luckily, I was the guy to be in that position last week. You never know who it'll be this week."

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