OWINGS MILLS — Vonta Leach approvingly watched the carnage from afar on his television, witnessing a violent series of blistering hits and intimidating words that define the Baltimore Ravens’ grudge rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One thought immediately came to mind for the bruising veteran fullback: "These two teams really hate each other."
Immediately capturing the essence of the annual series between these two AFC North powers, Leach is no longer a spectator.
The Ravens’ newly-acquired All-Pro fullback was brought to town on a three-year, $11 million contract for a very specific reason: to bash helmets with the likes of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior, beginning with this season-opener Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Yes, it’s exciting," Leach said. "You’ve got a division rival coming in here. Both franchises go at each other. It’s a tough, physical game. I remember watching it. It’s exciting to be a part of it. They’re physical, we want to be physical. It’s going to be real exciting."
And brutally hard-hitting, to say the least.
The Ravens summoned Leach from the Houston Texans to knock people down.
The stocky 6-foot, 255-pounder is here to lead interference for former Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.
A year ago, Foster paved a path for Houston Texans star running back Arian Foster to become the NFL rushing champion as he gained 1,610 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
"I watched what he did for Arian Foster, and he is an amazing fullback," Rice said when Leach was signed. "He lays the wood on people. Everyone knows his reputation, and I just can’t wait to follow him. Look, I could probably trip and get 5 yards running behind him. I’m just excited to have a guy like that in front of me.
"He’s all about business and all about hard work. When you’ve got a guy like that who brings that physical nature, your job as a running back is almost just run and catch the ball. He wants the dirty work. Here he goes, one of the best rocking fullbacks in the NFL."
Last season, Rice rushed for 1,220 yards. However, his average per carry fell to four yards per carry after averaging 5.3 yards per rush two seasons when he was named to the Pro Bowl.
In order to keep the Ravens’ defense off the field and prevent quarterback Joe Flacco from absorbing punishment, Baltimore may adopt a ball-control approach against the Steelers.
"Anytime you can run the football, that takes pressure off the quarterback," Leach said. "We want to protect Joe and we want to run the ball."
Last year, though, the Ravens fell to 14th in rushing offense as they averaged only 114.4 yards per contest on the ground. Meanwhile, the Steelers allowed just 62.8 rushing yards per game to rank first in the NFL in run defense.
"The mindset of the Ravens is you run the ball and everything else will take care of itself," guard Ben Grubbs said. "For years, we had been doing that and for whatever reason we kind of fell off last year. This year, we’re going to get that mindset back and start pounding the ball a little bit more."
With Leach operating as a punishing lead blocker, the Ravens are determined to get back to that physical approach.
And the former undrafted free agent from East Carolina can’t wait to officially become a part of the Ravens-Steelers lore, a story of cruel intentions.
"You always have these good games that come down to the fourth quarter, and I’m excited to be a part of it," Leach said. "I’ve been a part of Chicago-Green Bay and Texans-Cowboys, but never nothing like this."