By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
7:55 AM EDT, June 13, 2013
The true litmus tests await Ravens rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk during training camp and in actual games.
That's when the former Ivy League standout will be tasked with colliding with NFL linebackers in live contact situations, hurling his 6-foot-1, 248-pound body around like a human battering ram.
That part of a fullback's job responsibility is something that former Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, who was cut this week following failed attempts to lower his $4.33 million salary-cap figure, had transformed into something of an art form.
Leach is regarded as the most devastating lead blocker in the league, using his 6-foot, 260-pound frame to regulary intimidate linebackers and make the past three Pro Bowls.
Now it's Juszczyk who owns the starting job. Although he's a skilled, versatile receiver, he knows everyone wants to see his toughness on display as the successor to Leach.
And those questions can't be answered during a noncontact minicamp.
"Yeah, exactly, it's hard to pull off some of those blocks without pads," Juszczyk said. "I know there's been a lot of questions about whether or not I can have the same physicality as Vonta. Once the pads go on, that's an opportunity for me to show that I can knock some heads out there."
Juszczyk was a physical blocker at the Senior Bowl, and he hasn't shown any hesitation to run into defenders, including veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith this week.
Becoming a starter was his goal, and now Juszczyk has become one with Leach's departure. He had been hoping to learn from Leach, but that wasn't in the cards.
"I'm pretty excited now," Juszczyk said. "I'm starting to learn this offense. I feel like I can actually contribute out there. I definitely have a lot of respect for Vonta. I had a week to learn from him. I did a learn a lot from that week, but it's a business. I'm going to do my best to continue learning the offense and develop as a player. I've had about four weeks with the ones, I'm pretty comfortable with it."
And the Ravens are extremely comfortable with Juszczyk to cut Leach and install him as a starter.
“He’s exactly where we expected him to be,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s smart, of course. He has picked up very quickly, which you would expect. You’ve seen him practice. He has skills. He has ball skills. Good football player.”
Juszczyk is set for a versatile role beyond the traditional blocking that goes with playing fullback.
Last season alone, Juszczyk caught 52 passes for the Crimson for 706 yards. He scored 22 touchdowns in four seasons and was named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American.
Juszczyk is capable of lining up everywhere from fullback, tight end, H-back and slot receiver.
"I feel like I bring versatility to the table," Juszczyk said. "I can lead block, I can catch the ball out of the backfield. You can line me up in a number of different places as well as special teams. I feel like there will be a lot of different ways I can contribute to this team this year."
It will take some time, though, for Juszczyk to grow into the job. That's normal for a rookie.
“He should be able to do a good job once he gets some experience,” Ravens run game coordinator Juan Castillo said. “That’s what we get training camp for.”