Monday, July 29, 2013
Re-signing Leach was critical for Ravens
By Jamison Hensley
The Baltimore Ravens re-signed Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach to a two-year deal, a much-needed move for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Does this fill the void of losing tight end Dennis Pitta three days ago? No. But, given what the Ravens could do a week into training camp, this was the best move they could make.
In losing their top two receivers from a year ago -- Pitta (season-ending hip injury) and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to the 49ers) -- the Ravens had to stabilize their running game, which meant bringing back Leach as the lead blocker for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
Whether this signals that the Ravens will run the ball more is unknown. In two seasons with Leach, the Ravens ranked 10th and 11th in rushing. Where Leach could impact the most is in the red zone. Since they can't throw to Pitta and Boldin in the end zone, the Ravens can pound the ball inside the 20-yard line with battering-ram blocks from Leach. Still, in the big picture, it's difficult to believe the Ravens would give quarterback Joe Flacco $52 million guaranteed just to hand the ball off half the time.
The Ravens, though, couldn't go into the season with a question mark in the passing attack and running game. Rookie fourth-round fullback Kyle Juszczyk has potential, but he didn't appear ready for the job after a week into training camp. He isn't as proven as Leach to open up holes, especially in short yardage. Even linebacker Terrell Suggs asked at one point, "Where is Vonta Leach when you need him?"
Some downplayed Leach's importance because he was on the sidelines more and more as the Ravens went with more multiple receiver formations. And the Ravens probably envisioned two tight ends as their primary alignment before Pitta went down in the first padded practice of training camp. Now the Ravens can go back to being an I-formation team with Leach at fullback and Ed Dickson as the starting tight end.
Leach's intangibles are also important. His toughness and leadership are valuable, especially in a season when the Ravens have lost so many gritty players. Leach celebrated his signing by posting a picture of his Ravens locker on Twitter.
With Leach back, the Ravens reduced the starters lost from last year's Super Bowl team to nine.
In other news, coach John Harbaugh said Pitta has no ligament damage. He's still out for the season, but it gives him a positive outlook for 2014. Pitta should be able to start rehabbing in six to eight weeks.