Ravens add all-pro Leach after lockout but many familiar faces gone
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - Ray Rice was so elated over the prospect of running behind All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, he broke out in song.
"I'm so excited," Rice sang Monday, delving into the classic Pointer Sisters tune.
The addition of Leach is the latest in a series of moves over the past seven days that have left the Baltimore Ravens almost unrecognizable. Baltimore launched its first full week of practice Monday without longtime fixtures Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Chester and Donte' Stallworth were gone, too, from a unit that averaged 22.3 points per game last season.
"This is definitely a different offense," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We made some moves, let a couple guys go. We will miss those guys, because when you spend that much time with guys you've been in the fire with, you build a relationship. But we all know this is a business. So it's next man up."
The defense is also changed. Nose guard Kelly Gregg and cornerbacks Dawan Landry, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington have all signed with other teams.
The overhaul came as a result of the reintroduction of the salary cap and a whirlwind free agent signing period that began last week, shortly after the end of the NFL lockout.
"It's just the way it is," coach John Harbaugh said. "Our goal is to handle it better than anybody else."
If Baltimore can't adjust, its run of three straight playoff appearances could be jeopardy.
Heap and McGahee have signed elsewhere, and it appears as if McClain will leave, too. The Ravens hope the 37-year-old Mason will be back, but there is no guarantee.
No longer will the home fans yell "HEEEEAP!" after the veteran tight end makes a catch. As it stands now, Boldin will be joined by second-year tight end Ed Dickson and rookie Torrey Smith as quarterback Joe Flacco's main targets.
The offensive line has changed, too. Chester and Jared Gaither are out. Marshal Yanda has moved to right guard and 330-pound rookie Jah Reid is working with the first team at right tackle.
Regardless of how Reid fares, the running game should be better with Leach in front of Rice. McClain did a decent job last year, but he kept harping about how he wanted to run the ball.
Leach, signed as a free agent on Sunday, is solely an escort. That was his job last year in Houston, where he helped Arian Foster amass an NFL-leading 1,616 yards rushing.
"He's an amazing fullback," Rice said of Leach. "He lays the wood on people. Everybody knows his reputation, and I just can't wait to follow him. I could probably trip and get 5 yards running behind him. He's all about business and hard work."
Leach arrived in Baltimore late Monday afternoon and is expected to practice for the first time Tuesday. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery can't wait to get started.
"He is more of a fullback mold. Le'Ron is a two-day guy," Montgomery said. "Vonta is going to attack, attack, attack. It's nice to have him in this division."
When the Ravens face the Steelers in the Sept. 11 opener, Montgomery will be counting on Leach to bowl over anyone wearing black and gold.
"You know what? When you bring a guy into the fold like that, the teams in your division pay attention to it," Montgomery said. "Because now it makes it that much harder for them to stop the running game."