If you were like me, your Saturday afternoon consisted of the jaw-dropping news that the Baltimore Ravens had lost tight end Dennis Pitta for the season with a dislocated hip.
Your Monday probably brought about tears of joy when the defending Super Bowl Champions brought back the man who paved the way for running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in fullback Vonta Leach.
With quarterback Joe Flacco receiving one of the largest contracts in NFL history during the offseason, the initial diagnosis on this offense was that the passing game was going to take more of a precedence. However, with the departure of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers and the most recent season-ending injury to Pitta, general manager Ozzie Newsome acted fast and snagged the veteran fullback Leach — who was garnering minimal interest from teams like Miami, the New York Giants and Houston — to add some blocking help for an offense that is largely devoid of weapons through the air.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith has had a solid first two seasons to begin his NFL career, but he’s yet to taste the feeling of being a No. 1 and has yet to play without Anquan Boldin on his opposite side. Sure, Boldin worked largely out of the slot and working on the outside will not be anything new for Smith, but the Maryland product will be asked to step up his role as a receiver and will be expected to make grabs on a more frequent basis…especially on third downs.
Other than Smith, the Ravens have assembled quite the cast of characters with limited experience as every down wide receivers.
Yes, Jacoby Jones has snagged 51 balls in a season (2010) and six touchdown passes (2009), but his hands, like Smith, are skeptical at best. Just watch the great catch he made in the Denver postseason game… his punt-catching form is on-point.
We’ve all heard the rumblings that Tandon Doss has the “best hands on the team”, yet when it comes time to shine on the big stage, he remains absent and fades to the background.
This might be the last chance for the former third-round pick as he has received numerous chances to get a crack at being a reliable receiver on this ballclub. Given the losses of their two top pass catchers in Boldin and Pitta, this is Doss’ time to rise up and remind Ravens fans why he should be the man.
Despite the addition of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and the fact that Ed Dickson has started at that spot for this team before, the Ravens know that their main weaknesses on offense lies with the personnel and weapons that Joe Flacco has around him at wide receiver and tight end.
Enter Vonta Leach.
Rookie fullback Kyle Juszczk hasn’t exactly been a stellar blocker early on during training camp, so who better to bring in then the three-time Pro Bowler?
The former Houston Texan has only touched the ball 57 times for the Ravens and amassed just 282 total yards through the air and on the ground, scoring just once. He isn’t in Baltimore for his playmaking abilities, he’s here to break helmets and bruise egos.
One thing head coach John Harbaugh has always emphasized since his arrival in Baltimore is to “Play like a Raven.”
The 31-year-old bruiser represents this saying tenfold as he will do anything to get the job done for the team and most of his work doesn’t turn up on the stat sheet.
At 260 pounds, he is essentially another lineman in the backfield for running backs to follow and help them create additional holes.
The main knock on Leach — and ultimately what led to his release during the spring — is that he was largely a part-time player last season and used primarily in short yardage and goal line situations. Just watch the AFC Divisional game against the Broncos again and Leach will only appear on the television screen for 17 snaps on offense.
What Vonta does bring is that veteran and physical presence needed in the backfield. In addition, the East Carolina product gives their Ravens offense additional leadership that is lacking with the limited depth and experience, especially at the wide receiver position.
Big No. 44 is back and even though fullback isn’t exactly a sexy position to play, when a team has a good one, they will more often than not find ways to create packages for them…and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will as Leach makes his return to the Ravens training camp facility for his first full practice of the 2013 season Wednesday.