It was a familiar scene for the Ravens' offensive backfield as running back Ray Rice took handoffs and made his cuts with Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach operating as his lead blocker on Thursday morning.
Behind the scenes, though, whether Leach runs interference for Rice this season under his current contract remains an unresolved situation.
The Ravens would ideally like to lower Leach's $4.33 million salary-cap figure and are expected to craft a proposal to try to adjust his contract, according to league sources. In April, the Ravens drafted former Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round and would like to have both fullbacks on the roster, valuing Leach's bruising playing style and his leadership in the locker room.
"We're both still here, so we'll see how it goes," said Leach, who's been named to the past three Pro Bowls. "Hopefully, it can work out for both of us. If it don't, I feel like I still can play in this league and I'll have a job somewhere."
Leach is due a $3 million base salary as he enters the final year of a three-year, $11 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus.
With $3.583 million in salary-cap space under the NFL limit of $123 million, the Ravens could gain additional financial flexibility if a compromise can be reached with Leach.
Leach is still waiting to hear from the Ravens and hoping that things will work out.
"We don't know," Leach said. "When the situation comes, I think we'll take care of it."
Known for punishing linebackers and throwing around his rugged 6-foot, 260-pound frame, Leach is regarded as the top blocking back in the league.
However, the 31-year-old only played in 42 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps last season and had 22 snaps during the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Few offenses in today's NFL feature an old-school fullback like Leach.
Juszczyk, who caught 125 career passes in the Ivy League for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns before excelling at the Senior Bowl, is expected to have a versatile, pass-catching role that includes lining up at fullback, tight end and H-back
Leach is willing to pass on his veteran tactics to Juszczyk, a 6-1, 248-pounder who still has to establish himself in the NFL as a blocker.
"I'll teach him whatever he needs to know as far as the fullback position, I've got no problem with it," Leach said. "If he has got any questions he can come to me and ask me because that's how I made it in this league. I had a mentor and somebody helped me."
The Ravens signed Juszczyk to a four-year, $2.46 million rookie contract that includes a $300,584 signing bonus, but Leach remains the starter.
With Leach blocking for Rice the past two seasons, Rice has gained 2,507 rushing yards with 21 touchdown runs.
As far as Rice is concerned, both Leach and Juszczyk can coexist in a similar manner to how he and backup running back Bernard Pierce divide playing time.
"Him and Kyle are two different players," Rice said. "I don't think you can compare the two because they're totally different players. Vonta is going into his 10th season, and I think there is a lot of knowledge to be gained from that.
"From a blocking aspect, Vonta is the best at it. From a hybrid fullback-tight end aspect, Kyle can catch the ball and he do a lot of different things. From a learning aspect, you can always take from a guy that has played 10 years in the National Football League."
This marked the first week of organized team activities for Leach, who enjoyed his interaction with President Barack Obama during a White House visit Wednesday.
Obama was given a No. 44 Ravens jersey, which is Leach's number, signifying his status as the 44th president.
"It was a special moment to meet the president and kind of put the finishing touches, put the icing on the cake," Leach said. "It was pretty cool. .. It feels good to be around your friends and be around your guys that you go to war with every day. It's been good to be around the guys and start playing football again and knock some of the dust off."
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