With Vonta Leach Gone, Ravens Offense Beginning To Change

With news of fullback Vonta Leach being released from the Baltimore Ravens, the offense is showing itself changing and evolving with every move and decision made by the front office.

Vonta Leach talks Ravens-BroncosThe Ravens drafted Kyle Juszczyk out of Harvard in the 4th round of this year’s NFL Draft, and with that, it seemed the writing was on the wall for Leach as the team’s starting FB.

Its a dying breed in the NFL because it appears that other teams around the league are beginning to faze out true FB’s; straight-on blocking machines, plowing into linebackers and any other defenders in their way. The guy who sticks his neck out, gets a little dirty to give the running back all the glory, and, usually, a season in which said running back will get well over 1,000 yards on the ground.

Two factors appear to be the case in Leach’s release; a cap hit of $4.33 million dollars and a $3 million dollar base salary heading into the 2013 season and the drafting of Juszczyk, a guy who not only played FB full-throttle, but also saw time at TE and H-back at Harvard, has very good hands and the knack for scoring (22 TD’s in the Ivy League), things that scouts noted before he was drafted.

But the lingering question(s) – and it may or may not be linked together, depending on how you look at it – if the Ravens all along knew that they weren’t going to bring Leach back, further cementing that thought process by drafting Juszczyk, why not attempt to trade or cut bait earlier in the off-season? And with the Ravens transitioning their offense into one where not only is potency evident at the QB position, but also a total shift in philosophy with the running game, why the absolute need to trade Anquan Boldin?

Its not an easy decision on both ends and one I’m sure the Ravens front office debated back and forth and sat on the fence for some time.

If the Ravens had cut Leach earlier in the off-season and felt confident with Ray Rice and the emerging Bernard Pierce in the back field and like what they received from their TE’s both in blocking and catching, then perhaps there may have been more of an effort towards trying to keep Anquan Boldin in town. Its not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, with the Ravens in a cap crunch, Boldin wasn’t worth the $6 million he was owed going into 2013 after having an average season and then an outstanding postseason, but the money saved from releasing Leach could possibly have gone towards keeping Anquan in town. Surely if Leach were to be cut, they could have found a FB off the scrap heap. They chose to draft the hybrid Juszczyk.

The Ravens tried ‘aggressively’ to work out a deal with Leach but were unsuccessful in that attempt. Now fans will wonder, with a glaring hole at WR and uncertainty with how the running game will be featured, why wait so long to cut Leach now when this was ultimately going to be the team’s decision?

Leach was an outstanding performer in his two seasons in Baltimore and one of the more important free agent signings by the front office. He was also a highly respected teammate in the locker room because of his demeanor and play in general. His bruising style led the way for Rice to have seasons of 1364 and 1143 yards rushing respectively, certainly a key cog into the Ravens nearly making the Super Bowl in 2011 and winning it all in 2012.

According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, with Vonta Leach on the field, Ray Rice ran 206 times for 869 yards and 10 TD in ’12. Without Leach, Rice ran for 582 yards on 135 carries and just 1 touchdown.

As of now, the fullback job is Juszczyk’s to lose. The dynamic of the offense will change and now with not only the team’s most physical WR gone, they’re without a bulldozing FB who helped Ray Rice eat up yards.

They’ll need to get creative quick and find out what pieces they have in place that can contribute over the course of a season, and which pieces could eventually be found on the waiver wire or via trade.

Despite Leach’s role in the offense, he played just 22 snaps in the Super Bowl as the Ravens throughout the playoffs opened the offense up with more three and four receiver sets and used their tight ends in different ways.

Credit: AP-Photo/ Marcio Sanchez

Credit: AP-Photo/ Marcio Sanchez

This is the evolution of the Ravens offense. One that doesn’t include an old-school FB.

While the Ravens figure out how Juszczyk fits into his role in the offense, the OTA’s loom and though nothing is set in stone, only Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have the most history with quarterback Joe Flacco. Anquan Boldin isn’t walking back through that door. Neither is Vonta Leach.

Time for the young, hungry wide receivers to grow up very quick. Time to see what a running game will be like without an All-Pro FB and behind an offensive line who found themselves again in the playoffs.

The Ravens truly are banking on their guys to “Play Like Ravens.”

The decisions in place will be something the Ravens will have to live with. They’ll move on as they always do with the “Next Man Up” mantra, but as fans begin to wonder why the situation wasn’t reversed instead, they may be a little unnerved by the move. What we’ve seen time and time again is the front office makes moves that end up bettering the team. This move, like others, deserves a wait and see approach with how things shake out.

After all, they have shiny new bling to show off in the mean time.

 

Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.

Matt Lund is a co-host of the BSR Podcast and regular contributor to BSR. A Towson University alum, Matt is a lifelong Baltimore sports fan and native of Charm City working in sports broadcasting.

10 Comments

  1. Josh

    June 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I wouldn’t characterize the hole at WR as “glaring.” True, we lack a veteran presence opposite Torrey. But the young wideouts have been in the system for a few years now, and while they haven’t received much playing time, one or several of them should step up this year; it’s their time.

  2. 9inchnails

    June 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Leach was making a lot of money to block for Rice but this is football not tiddlywinks. So long Vontae, the ride has been nice. We will be fine with our elite QB. we should have drafted Mantei Teo, his girlfriend could have played FB.

  3. MGW

    June 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I still believe that a smashmouth running game is crucial in the AFC North. Leach was a key cog in that running game. I understand that it is a business, but I think to make sure they are not penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  4. 9inchnails

    June 12, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I would rather see a TE or HBack becasue of the threat of the pass and their catching ability. Leach and Rice have arms like crabs.

  5. spy

    June 12, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Vonta was a beast but when he lined up , the other team knew it would be a running play,,,,,,,,,,,,you need more guessing from the other guys than this,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,his time was up,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  6. Ravens2488

    June 15, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    And none of these moves like Leach, Pollard, Boldin, Kruger, Reed, had anything to do with Average Joe’s contract? You know Average Joe… He’s the one they are going to lean on to throw it every game to one guy who does nothing but run a deep route down the right sideline (Smith), one guy who came on last year and surprised (Jones) and a bunch of no names. Guess we will be seeing a lot more out passes to Rice this year.

    Oh yeah, and Average Joe will be “Below” Average Joe. Average Joe got all that money based on a pass that the defender for the Broncos misplayed.

    I think the Ravens should have re-negotiated Ngata’s contract. You know, the one he got and hasn’t done anything since he got it.

    Or, as my partner in crime, MGW says, why would they give that big contract to Rice and then draft Pierce? Which I am in total agreement with. And it looks like Pierce is going to be good.

    I’m a Ravens fan but I also call it as I see it and don’t bullshit anyone. Putting the team on Flacco’s shoulders is a HUGE mistake!

  7. 9inchnails

    June 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Average Joe won us a Super Bowl…so did average Trent…

  8. Ravens2488

    June 15, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Average Joe didn’t win that Super Bowl. Those receivers that made spectacular catches and a defense that stepped up when needed did.

    And think about it, your comparing Flacco to Dilfer. You just verified what I said.

  9. 9inchnails

    June 15, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    A Super Bowl win is a Super Bowl win, brother! I will take one with Tyrod Taylor at the helm. Hell, my boy the Intimidator could be our QB for all I care.

  10. Willo

    June 16, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Gone are the days of smash mouth football for the SB champ Ravens. Replaced instead by five receiver sets and the elite arm of average Joe Flacco. Oh wait a minute, the Ravens cannot filed five receivers. Okay maybe they will roll out the hybrid back? My bad, they do not have a hybrid back. I know, average Joe will feature his elite arm! Maybe Joe can catch enough air to throw the ball down the field and make the reception himself? He would be a great fantasy player, throw for 300 yards and have 20 catches. Maybe Ozzie should suck it up and find a way to pay Vonta.