Ravens FB Leach on collision course to stardom

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Ravens FB Leach on collision course to stardom

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Vonta Leach's job is to get involved in a collision so Ray Rice won't.

The Baltimore Ravens are in the Super Bowl in part because of Leach's ability to pave a path for Rice to follow. If that involves sticking his helmet into the chest of a 300-pound defensive lineman, then so be it.

``It's just my job,'' said Leach, a three-time Pro Bowl fullback. ``Everybody's got to do their part for us to be successful, and that's my role.''

Leach serves as an escort for Rice and backup running back Bernard Pierce. In 2010, he opened up holes for Arian Foster in Houston. Not coincidentally, Rice and Foster both earned invitations to the Pro Bowl by following Leach's lead.

``Vonta is a fullback, the most under-recognized position in the game because of all the physical abuse he does to his body to see another man shine,'' said Rice, who ran for 1,143 yards during the regular season. ``The fullback position is not a pretty job. One thing about it is, Vonta wants that responsibility, to go out there and just knock people out for me and Bernard to be successful. He's done it for many backs over the years. Look at what he's done for Arian Foster. They all can vouch for him. Linebackers around the league know he's coming for you.''

Leach broke into the NFL in 2004 with Green Bay, but he didn't really make a name for himself until he played for Houston. In 2008 he cleared room for Steve Sloan, and two years later he helped make Foster the NFL's leading rusher.

His work often goes unnoticed, but is not unappreciated. Leach was an All-Pro in 2010 and 2011, and he's made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons.

Leach didn't play in the NFL's all-star game this season because he was preparing for something more important: a Super Bowl matchup Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

``Vonta Leach is a good fullback. He is an All-Pro fullback, a Pro Bowl fullback, and really I almost feel like he is the last of the dying breed of what you can call a real fullback,'' 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. ``He is a tough guy and a guy that every play you have to come with it.''

Sometimes, Leach actually gets to run with the football. He carried nine times during the regular season, gaining 32 yards and scoring a touchdown. He has four rushes for 14 yards and a TD in the postseason. But most of the time, he's the one clearing room for someone else.

A year ago, the Ravens ran for 1,996 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rice gained 1,364 yards and scored 12 TDs. Those numbers were slightly lower this year - Baltimore had 1,901 yards rushing, and Rice score nine TDs on the ground - in part because Joe Flacco has been so effective passing the ball.

``I think last year we probably were a little bit better than this year, but we're a more balanced team,'' Leach said. ``Teams don't know right now if we're going to run or pass the ball.''

Leach was perfectly happy in Houston, but before the 2011 season the Texans decided he was too expensive to keep.

``My five years there was a great experience,'' Leach said. ``I never had a run-in with the coaches or players. It's just that when the time came for me to get some money, for me to get my piece of the pie, they just didn't offer it to me.''

He quickly signed with Baltimore as an unrestricted agent. It was a move that ultimately benefited both teams.

``I'm very happy with the success I've had with the Ravens,'' he said. ``The reason I came is, the Ravens are one of those teams you're always talking about being in the running for the Super Bowl. Now here we are, and we have a chance to win it.''

Only the 49ers stand in the way. Come Sunday, with Rice right behind him, Leach will be looking to knock down anyone wearing a red jersey.

Ozzie Newsome, Ronnie Stanley deny Laremy Tunsil was Ravens' choice before video

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Ozzie Newsome, Ronnie Stanley deny Laremy Tunsil was Ravens' choice before video

OWINGS MILLS -- Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome denied the Ravens were going to pick left tackle Laremy Tunsil over Ronnie Stanley, until the gas mask video of Tunsil appeared on social media prior to the draft.

“No,” Newsome said Saturday night, when asked point blank if Tunsil would have been the Ravens’ choice, absent the video. “There’s a lot of speculation.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Ravens were going to pick Tunsil at No. 6, but picked Stanley instead after the video became public. Tunsil plummeted to No. 13 where the Dolphins took him, costing Tunsil millions of dollars.

Stanley took exception to Schefter’s report, refuting it on Twitter Saturday.

Believe who you want. But the careers of Stanley and Tunsil will now be compared even more, with both the Ravens and Dolphins hoping their rookie left tackle has the better NFL career.

After finishing 5-11 in 2015, and having already dealt with the domestic violence elevator video of former running back Ray Rice in 2014, can you blame the Ravens for passing on Tunsil? The controversy would have hovered over the Ravens and Tunsil -- baggage the Ravens don’t need, and can’t afford.

The Ravens did not shun Tunsil to reach for somebody who had no business being drafted No. 6. Some scouts had Stanley rated over Tunsil even before the video.

“He (Stanley) was right at the top row, with the top row of players,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Newsome has admitted the Ravens tried to trade up to No. 4 to get defensive back Jalen Ramsey. But the Cowboys stayed put at No. 4 and took running back Ezekiel Elliott. After Ramsey went No. 5 to the Jaguars, the Ravens took Stanley at No. 6.

The fact Newsome was willing to disclose how badly he wanted Ramsey was revealing. Newsome is not worried about protecting Stanley’s feelings. There is already pressure on Stanley, and if he can’t handle that, he is going to struggle anyway.

Remember, Tunsil wasn’t the only top player the Ravens passed on at No. 6. Any of the next five players drafted would have addressed one of the Ravens’ primary needs - defensive end DeForest Buckner (No. 7, left tackle Jack Conklin (No. 8), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (No. 9), and cornerbacks Eli Apple (No. 10) and Vernon Hargreaves (No. 11).

Stanley’s job is to prove Newsome made the right choice. But Tunsil’s video? That was one video too many for the Ravens.

Ravens draft grade: Solid, not sensational

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Ravens draft grade: Solid, not sensational

After a draft that featured a whopping 11 players, the Ravens should be better, and they are. We’re all guessing at this point, but I’d give them a B grade for this draft. Here are five takeaways Ravens’ which should explain why I like their draft, but can’t love it at this point:

1. The Ravens attacked their need for pass rushers

Unless the Ravens missed in the second-round (OLB Kamalei Correa), the third-round (DE Bronson Kaufusi), and the fifth-round (DE Matt Judon), their pass rush will improve. With those three, along with Elvis Dumervil and Za’Darius Smith, the Ravens can get after quarterbacks even if Terrell Suggs is not the same after his second Achilles injury.

2. Not taking a cornerback sooner could haunt the Ravens

They need corner help, but did not get any until drafting Tavon Young of Temple (fourth-round) and Maurice Canady (sixth round). If those two are slow to develop, the Ravens could find themselves scrambling to find cornerback help in August, especially if there is an injury or two at that position.

3. More playmakers should make the Ravens more explosive

The pass rushers on defense should create more turnovers.  And keep an eye on running back Kenneth Dixon (fourth round) and wide receiver Chris Moore (fourth round). Dixon is shifty, and he has good hands. Moore is a deep threat with superb ball skills. Both have the potential to be Sunday playmakers, not only in 2016, but beyond.

4. Taking either pass rusher Noah Spence or inside linebacker Miles Jack would have given this draft more star potential

After Laremy Tunsil’s gas mask video surfaced, I agreed with the Ravens’ decision to take left tackle Ronnie Stanley at No. 6. But the Ravens may regret passing on both Spence and Jack in the second round. After wide receiver Breshad Perriman missed all of last season with a knee injury, it’s hard to blame the Ravens steering clear of Jack due to his knee issues. But without Jack, the Ravens still need help at inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley. As for Spence, maybe the Ravens’ background check told them it was too risky to take him, after he left Ohio St. for Eastern Kentucky due to drug issues (ecstasy). But Spence went No. 39 to the Buccaneers, and if he becomes a double-digit sack artist immediately, that will be tough for Ravens fans to watch.

5. Keenan Reynolds could be much more than just a popular sixth-round pick

Ravens’ officials had tears in their eyes talking about the reaction of former Navy star Reynolds, after he received the Ravens’ phone call. It’s a feel-good story, but it could be much more. Reynolds has all the traits to be a dynamic punt returner – toughness, vision, open-field quickness, and sound judgment. Reynolds usually makes the most of an opportunity. Don’t be surprised if he does it again.

Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

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Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

After his memorable career at Navy, Keenan Reynolds fulfilled another dream Saturday when the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round (No. 182 overall).

Reynolds has been told by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome that he will compete for a roster spot as a wide receiver – punt returner, after playing quarterback at Navy. When he received the phone call from Newsome, Reynolds described it has one of the most emotional moments of his life. 

“Relief, excitement,” Reynolds said during a conference call. “I was upset (watching the draft). I know I can play with these guys. To see my name, to see my phone ring…It’s a dream come true. All I ever wanted to do was play on Sundays.”

It remains to be seen if Reynolds’ Navy obligations will interfere with his dream of an NFL career. Reynolds said he had already talked with some Navy officials, and hoped a resolution could be reached.

“I think being in the DMV area is going to help my cause, but again that’s a call that’s up to the Navy,” Reynolds said. “It’s up to the secretary of the Navy and the Navy. But right now I’m just trying to bask in what the now is, and I’m just blessed to be picked up, and I’m ready to get started.”

Asked when he would get an answer from the Navy, Reynolds said, “It will be soon. It will probably happen within the next few days. 

Reynolds believes he can make a quick transition to wide receiver. 

“I’ve been running routes like crazy, trying to get quicker in and out of my routes, I’ve been catching punts – everything that they want me to do. To get to work with Steve Smith Sr. and learn from him, try to get better from him? It’s going to be an awesome ride.”

CSN analyst Brian Mitchell, a former returner with the Redskins, has been working with Reynolds on his punt return technique. 

“He kind of gave me some extra drills,” Reynolds said. “He brings an innovative style, also perspective from somebody who has returned punts. I’m just extremely excited.”