OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked about the signing of All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, running back Ray Rice broke into his rendition of “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters after practice on Monday.
And why wouldn’t he be after Leach was responsible for paving the way — or blowing it up — for the rushing champion as a member of the Houston Texans a season ago?
“I watched what he did for Arian Foster,” said Rice, referring to Foster’s league-best 1,616 rushing yards. “He’s an amazing fullback. He lays the wood on people. Everybody knows what his reputation is. I just can’t wait to follow him. I could probably trip and get five yards running behind him.
“I’m just excited to have a guy like that in front of me, because he’s all about business and all about hard work.”
Unlike free-agent fullback Le’Ron McClain, who seemed more interested in carrying the ball himself than opening holes for Rice, the Ravens know what they’re getting in Leach. After Leach received only three carries in his first seven seasons combined, it’s doubtful we’ll see any “Leach for Running Back” t-shirts popping up for sale.
With improving the running game deemed a priority as soon as the 2010 season came to an end against Pittsburgh in mid-January, it’s clear the Ravens are trying to recreate the identity they enjoyed in 2008 with a then-rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens used a three-headed attack of McClain, Rice, and Willis McGahee when they carried the ball more than any team in the NFL and finished fourth overall in rushing yards per game.
And the man leading the way was a major reason why.
“We wanted the big physical fullback,” Harbaugh said. “Vonta’s going to have to come in here and prove it every single day. That’s what he brings to the table; he’s a presence. He brings the personality I think we had a little more the first year with Lorenzo Neal. He’s a guy that we really were targeting all the way back, so we’re happy to have him.”
J. Smith injured
Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith missed the latter half of practice with an apparent upper leg injury. The injury is not considered serious.
However, asking Harbaugh for clarity on what happened to Smith gave the media its first lecture from the Ravens head coach about his distaste for talking about injuries in what’s become an annual occurrence. Harbaugh was in mid-season form despite the Ravens’ Week 1 meeting against Pittsburgh still 41 days away.
“I think I’ll just establish this right now, ” Harbaugh said, “but don’t even bother to ask about any injuries in training camp.”
Fourth-round pick Tandon Doss doesn’t possess great speed or overwhelming size (6-foot-2 and 200 pounds), but the Indiana product made two brilliant catches in the end zone during red zone passing drills on Monday.
One of the grabs was a one-handed, lunging attempt that drew plenty of attention from both offensive and defensive players. Doss has mostly worked with the second offense over the first week of training camp.
“He’s got great hands, and he’s got great [run-after-catch] transition,” Harbaugh said. “Catch the ball and get up field. He’s shown that. What we saw on tape, he’s definitely shown.”
Grubbs back, Birk out
Starting left guard Ben Grubbs came off the physically-unable-to-perform list on Monday and saw his first action of training camp. The fifth-year Auburn product — who is also the longest-tenured starter in the Ravens offense — appeared to take a full workload without fearing any ill effects.
Grubbs had started camp on the active PUP list as a precautionary measure after having offseason ankle surgery.
“He looked OK,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the first time he’s been on a football field since January. We’ll look at the tape, see how he looked, but I didn’t see any real major problems. It looks like he got through it physically.”
Center Matt Birk, however, missed Monday’s practice and his left knee wrapped in an ace bandage. Through his first two training camps with Baltimore, the 35-year-old regularly received days off when needed.
With Birk not practicing and right guard Marshal Yanda not allowed to practice until Thursday, rookies Ryan Bartholomew and Tim Barnes worked at center with the starting offense and rookie Justin Boren and 2010 practice squad member Brady Bond worked at right guard.
Hear more from John Harbaugh, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, and running back coach Wilbert Montgomery as well as Lardarius Webb’s post-practice conversation with Glenn Clark in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.