The Ravens' bruiser is back.
Baltimore re-signed Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach Monday afternoon, reportedly to a two-year deal.
It comes two days after tight end Dennis Pitta was lost for the year. While Pitta's loss is a hit to the passing game, Leach's addition should boost the Ravens running game.
When the Ravens released Leach in mid-June after a contract restructure couldn't be agreed upon, General Manager Ozzie Newsome said there was still a chance Leach could return. Turns out, Newsome was right yet again.
After not drawing much interest on the free-agent market, Leach came back to the city where he won a Super Bowl.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said Leach was in the process of signing as Monday's practice ended. Leach went through a workout and passed his conditioning test.
"He's in shape and ready to go. And we're pleased to have him back," Harbaugh said.
"Having Vonta back gives you a physical presence for sure with your offense, short yardage, goal line. Also, it's a leadership presence."
Leach, who went to the Pro Bowl in both of his two seasons in Baltimore, will add more muscle to the Ravens offense. Even though Leach had a shrinking role last year, he was still a valuable tool in clearing holes for Baltimore's running backs.
The Ravens run game ranked 11th in the NFL last year with 118.8 rushing yards per game, and 10th in 2011 with an average of 124.8. Leach helped running back Ray Rice go to the Pro Bowl both years.
Leach, 31, is also very well-respected in the locker room. On a team that is now without strong veterans like linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Leach's return helps provide more leadership.
"I feel like I never left," Leach said. "What you miss is the guys, being in the locker room and being with the guys. I'm just happy to be back in the locker room. Now let's go to work."
Leach's locker was just as he left it, with name plate and all. He sat on his stool, responding to well wishes on his phone as teammates one by one welcomed him back.
Quarterback Joe Flacco said he is "great friends" with Leach. Flacco and other Ravens players still went to Leach's football and cheer camp in North Carolina in late June, when Leach wasn't even on the team. Ravens players, such as linebacker Terrell Suggs, lobbied for Leach to "come back home" on Twitter.
The Miami Dolphins had long been rumored as the favorites to land Leach, but they decided not to make him an offer. The New York Giants and Houston Texans also reportedly showed interest, but not as much as the Ravens.
"Obviously we've been hopeful that this would happen all along," Harbaugh said. "This is not something that we weren't hoping for, and it worked out in our favor."
Newsome kept in touch with Leach about once a week throughout the process, and the market for fullbacks wasn't strong, as the position is being somewhat phased out of the NFL.
Leach said that at times it felt more likely that he would land in Baltimore, and other times that it felt like he was heading elsewhere.
"It was at times a frustrating process, but I know it's a business and that's how it goes," Leach said. "Unfortunately I know all too well that it's a business. I had to be patient and continue to stay in good shape not knowing where I was going to be this year. But I'm glad I'm here."
Leach had a shrinking role in Baltimore's offense last year as it went to more single-back sets with more receivers. He played just 22 snaps in the Super Bowl, for example.
The Ravens also drafted versatile Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round this year, and were happy with his progress throughout offseason training activities (OTAs), minicamp and now the start of training camp.
But having Leach back is an added bonus that should help the Ravens in multiple areas. Leach said he isn't worried about his role moving forward.
"It's just like always. I'm here to help the team and do whatever I've got to do," he said. "I don't care if I play 50 snaps or 200 snaps, it doesn't matter. I'll be ready to play when my time comes."
Leach said it should only take him a couple days to get back in the swing of practice and start crushing defenders. And once again, fans at M&T Bank Stadium will be calling out, "Leeeach!"
"I'm ready to hear it," Leach said with a grin.