Shortly after the Detroit Lions hired Jim Caldwell to be their head coach earlier this month, Ravens fullback Vonta Leach reached out to Ravens coach John Harbaugh and encouraged him to interview Gary Kubiak, his former coach in Houston, for the team’s vacant offensive coordinator position.
So of course Leach was excited on Monday afternoon when the Ravens announced that they had hired Kubiak -- whom Leach recently called “a great coach, great father, great man” -- to be their offensive coordinator and that Kubiak was also brining along Rick Dennison to be the team’s new quarterbacks coach.
But right now, it is fair to wonder whether Leach will actually get an opportunity to play for Kubiak again.
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The 32-year-old is slated to make a base salary of $1.75 million, a total that is not guaranteed, in 2014 and he carries a salary-cap figure of $2.33 million, which is a lot of money to commit to a fullback who played just 44 offensive snaps in the team’s final six games of the 2013 season and just 12 total in their final three games.
No one would have blamed Leach for being unhappy with his diminished role, but he was a professional about it and never allowed himself to become a distraction. After the season, he acknowledged that he was frustrated about being phased out as the Ravens went three-wide on most of their snaps, but he didn’t rule out a return.
"If they had a role for me, ideally, I want to be here," Leach said as the Ravens cleaned their lockers a day after their season ended. "I want to be back, but you know I understand this is a business. ... It is tough for a fullback. There are still some teams that use a fullback, and I think I can play probably another one or two years.”
Kubiak's Texans were one of those teams. Texans fullback Greg Jones played 329 offensive snaps, 105 more than Leach, in 2013. Only seven NFL fullbacks played more.
When Leach was in Houston, he became one of the NFL’s best fullbacks under Kubiak’s tutelage as he paved the way for running backs like Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Steve Slaton in Kubiak’s zone-blocking schemes. His vision as a blocker while reading defenses was just as important as his willingness to blow up linebackers.
Kubiak and Dennison share a fondness for Leach, too.
“We had Vonta over in the Pro Bowl, and we tried to get him to be the MVP,” Dennison said Monday. “We kept giving him the ball, which he always wanted. I love [Leach and wide receiver Jacoby Jones] both.”
After the season, it seemed unlikely that Leach, a three-time All-Pro, would be back with the Ravens in 2014. But the hiring of Kubiak as offensive coordinator could complicate things, considering Kubiak’s steady usage of his fullbacks and Leach’s familiarity with the zone-blocking scheme Kubiak will bring from Houston.
But will the Ravens be willing to bring back Leach at that base salary? And would Leach be willing to accept another pay cut if the Ravens insisted he take one to return?
Those are questions that will need to be answered in the coming months, but at least on the surface, it looks as if Leach and Kubiak should be receptive to a reunion.