BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 06: Fullback Vonta Leach #44 of the Baltimore Ravens during training camp at M&T Bank Stadium on August 6, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Vonta Leach is one of the last of a dying breed. The true fullback, a guy that takes all of the hits but virtually none of the credit. In fact there was somewhat of an outcry that Leach himself was listed inside the top 50 on the NFL Top 100 Players Of 2011 list. It seems that even though he is the best at his position, fans do not think that his effect on the game warrants a top 50 selection.
2011 was Leach's first year in Baltimore and coincidentally Ray Rice's best year in the NFL. Rice rushed for 1,364 yards behind the bruising Leach and the tides seemed to turn his way once he realized he should be following Leach more. It took Ray Lewis getting in Rice's ear for him to listen, Lewis saying "That's your Pro Bowl fullback baby boy, follow that man!" But once Rice did listen, he was just that much better for it.
Leach spends the majority of his time on the field being used as a battering ram on linebackers and safeties. Pretty much whoever steps up into the box to back up the defensive line. When the offensive line opens up a hole for the run game, Leach is the first one through it ready to mash anyone waiting for him. Then, the speedy Rice is able to have more open field to work with. If Rice is allowed space to work he can take over a game.
This season it will not only be Rice that Leach is blocking for but rookie Bernard Pierce as well. What a way to come into the NFL for Pierce, right behind the leagues best fullback. Pierce and Leach should work well together because Pierce has a similar running style to Arian Foster in Houston. A player whom Leach also helped to become one of the leagues best rushers.
This could have been by design for the Ravens. They may have seen the success Foster had behind Leach and looked for a runner similar to him in style. Especially with Rice being a potential hold out so far. Whether it is Rice or Pierce that carries the rock for Baltimore it will be the ever present Leach leading the way. Maybe Ravens fans can take their eyes off the ball carrier a bit this season to truly appreciate the way an elite fullback plays the game. One thing is for sure, Leach will bring some very notable linebackers to their knees once again this season.