Ravens Notebook

Vonta Leach on Texans: 'I have no hard feelings toward them'

It was a quiet departure from the Houston Texans' backfield, quite unlike one of fullback Vonta Leach's thunderous trademark blocks.

The Texans barely lifted a finger to retain him despite how Leach bulldozed linebackers out of the path of NFL rushing champion Arian Foster last season. It was mostly silence as contract talks never really got kickstarted.

So, the All-Pro lead blocker signed a three-year, $11 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens that included $6 million in guaranteed money. Three months later as the Ravens (3-1) prepare to square off with the Texans (3-2) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Leach insists he harbors no ill will toward his old employer.

"I have no hard feelings toward them," Leach said. "It was just business obviously. I would say that obviously they had other needs and I wasn't important enough on the team. I wasn't high enough on the totem pole. I was the odd man out. You can't pay everybody, but I proved my worth.

"It's just another game for me, but I do want to win. I don't think I left on a bad note. I was happy, they were happy. It was just one of those situations where they had other parties they had to take care of."

Acquiring Leach injected a physical presence into the Ravens' offense.

Just ask Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler, who got trucked so hard to the ground by Leach during the preseason that the fullback popped his own helmet off.

Or the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebacking corps of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior, who got the worst of their collisions with Leach during a 35-7 loss to Baltimore to open the season.

Leach is a pure fullback, engulfing defenders with his stocky 6-foot, 255-pound frame. "I think that he is willing to hit on a consistent basis, and that is rare to find in this arena," Foster said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "Fullbacks that will constantly go at you play after play after play, and it's his physicality that he brings to the game. Plus, he can catch out of the backfield." The Ravens rank ninth in rushing offense, averaging 123.8 yards per game.

And the Texans are now ranked fifth in rushing without Leach after building the top-ranked running game in the league a year ago with him. With Leach blocking for him, Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has gained 297 yards and is on pace to rush for 1,188 yards.

"He's a perfect fit, came in a leader," Rice said. "When things get going, you've got to have somebody speak up. Vonta fit right in that mix. He'll be the first to grab a group, put us together on the sideline, put us together in meetings, whatever."

Leach has an easy smile, a good sense of humor and a tendency to sing in the locker room. When Leach was with the Texans, he used to make his teammates and coaches laugh by wearing a Santa Claus suit to practice around Christmas. "That kind of brought a smile to everybody's face," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Vonta is a joy to be around. He is one of those guys that loves to play. He has a great, positive influence on all his teammates. He is a great family man. I miss him. He is a hell of a football player and a good man.

"He is fun to be around. He is a leader. I really like him as a person, and obviously, he is a hell of a player. You can't keep them all, unfortunately, in this business. So, we had to go in another direction." That direction for the Texans was to install former tight end James Casey as the new starting fullback.

With Casey a question mark due to a strained pectoral muscle, the Texans might start Lawrence Vickers at fullback against Baltimore. Leach has yet to carry the football this season, but he's been a big part of the offense as the designated body guard for Rice. And offensive coordinator Cam Cameron throws him the occasional bone with a swing pass out of the backfield with Leach catching five passes for 15 yards. "I liked it there, but I think here is a better fit for me," Leach said. "Here, we use the fullback and we like the fullback here. I wanted to play somewhere where they utilize the fullback and like the fullback. This offense fits a fullback like myself. I've been accepted by the players here and the coaches. I really like it." Leach has emerged as a popular figure on the team because of his willingness to sacrifice his body and inflict punishment on the field. Off the field, Leach matches wits with colorful personalities like outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

"You've got to like Vonta's personality," Suggs said. "We have a lot of characters in this locker room. We all like to have fun. He came in and fit right in. As far as his play on the field, I think it speaks for itself. "I think he knows his role as a fullback. He's not a fullback trying to be a tailback. He's a great fullback, and he plays Ravens-style football."

Suggs winked and smiled after making the comment. It was an obvious playful jab at former Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs after unsuccessfully lobbying the team for a return to his featured role as a running back from three seasons ago. Leach is more than satisfied to knock someone down. He has no visions of grandeur of being the star.

Now, Leach is taking aim at his former teammates. "Everyone should buckle up their chin straps when they play against the Ravens, not just one team," he said. "I don't have nothing to prove. I played for them for five years, they know everything I can do. I had some great times there.

"I still have a lot of friends on that team, but Sunday it's time to play and I'm trying to get a win. It's going to be fun and weird. I'm going to have mixed emotions leading up to the game and during the game. Hey, we're all professionals. When the game starts, it's on."

Notebook: Mason gets another shot at Ravens

OWINGS MILLS - The last time the Baltimore Ravens saw wide receiver Derrick Mason, he was fighting with outside linebacker Paul Kruger and arguing with cornerback Cary Williams.

With the New York Jets at the time, the former Ravens starter was on the wrong end of a 34-17 loss at M&T Bank Stadium two weeks ago. Now, they're going to square off with the feisty, talkative veteran for the second game in a row Sunday after Mason was unloaded to the Houston Texans for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. Mason fell out of favor with coach Rex Ryan, complaining about his reduced role and criticizing the offense as he was replaced by rookie Jeremy Kerley as the Jets' third wide receiver. There were reports that Mason didn't know the playbook well enough.

"I think Derrick Mason said, ‘Who are the Ravens playing next? Trade me to that team," Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said. "He was pretty upset. He was fighting with Paul Kruger. He was upset, fighting with Cary out there. I think he wants to get some payback. I don't think he's going to get it against us, though."

Mason has caught 13 passes for 145 yards this season, but he was predicted by Ryan to catch 80 to 90 passes when he signed with the Jets after the Ravens withdrew a veteran minimum offer to the two-time Pro Bowl selection. He was benched for the entire first half against the New England Patriots, catching one pass for seven yards.

Kruger downplayed the scrap with Mason. "It was a football game, stuff just happens," Kruger said. "We were teammates, we were friends. I yanked on him a little bit. I don't think he liked it. He responded, and my reaction was to push him. Nothing serious." And Mason is serious about getting off to a good start with his new football team. Mason said joining the Texans is "a breath of fresh air."

And he insists he will be ready to play against his old team.

"I will play Sunday," Mason told Houston reporters. "I'm going to do whatever I need to do to play Sunday and not just because it's Baltimore or just because I want to be out there. "I'll be in the playbook all the way up until Sunday to make sure that whatever plays that I'm called to run, I'm able to run them."

It wasn't a shock that Mason rubbed the Jets the wrong way with his words, but it did surprise Ravens running back Ray Rice to see him traded. "Mase has always been a guy that's very outspoken and sometimes probably got ridiculed for being outspoken," Rice said. "I don't know what his situation was with Rex, but he was always honest, he was always straightforward with what he had to say. I was surprised.

"I really thought that he was going to fit in up there, but Mase is one of my buddies, so I definitely wish him success wherever he's at. Overall, he was a guy that we looked up to, to make plays here, so you never want to see a guy in that kind of situation. That's just the business side of things."

The Texans were in dire need of a wide receiver with Andre Johnson sidelined with a torn hamstring and Bryant Johnson injured as well. "It's going to be interesting, man, to see how they incorporate Mason to the offense in such a short time, such short notice," Reed said. "Mason is a smart guy. I don't know why it didn't work out in New York, but Mason is a professional, and I know he's going to be prepared if he's put in the game."

Could Mason's knowledge of the Ravens provide a boost to the Texans?

"How much you think he told the Jets?" Reed said. "At the end of the day, it comes down to execution. He can tell whatever he wants to tell. At the end of the day, it's our men against their men. So, we'll see."

The Ravens don't seem to be losing any sleep thinking about how Mason will be utilized with the Texans, but coach John Harbaugh was complimentary of the former Baltimore starter. "You try to think in terms in how it's going to impact our game planning and where they might use him and how quickly they can get him up to speed and what they can actually ask him to do and stuff like that," Harbaugh said. " That's what we're trying to figure out right now. Obviously, Derrick is a really good player and dangerous guy, so we're just trying to figure out how they're going to fit him in there and I don't know if we're going to be able to know that until Sunday.

"Derrick is a great route runner and has great hands. He's a guy that anytime he gets any kind of one-on-one coverage, he's not going to be a guy you're going to be able to cover that way. He'll find a way to get open. Derrick is really competitive. He wants to be a big part of what's going on and that's what made him so good all of those years."

BIRK APPEALING FINE: Ravens six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk plans to appeal a $5,000 fine from the NFL incurred for removing his microphone from his shoulder pads. The NFL requires centers or offensive guards to wear microphones.

"I will appeal," Birk said. "I understand the rules. It's clear now. The center is miked up for games. I've worn a microphone before. When I went out for warmups, the microphone came loose and was jabbing my neck. It was tucked in there pretty tight. I couldn't get it, so I just took it off. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do that."

Birk said, "it's tough to say" when asked if any competitive advantage could be gained from teams listening to what a center says.

"I don't know," Birk said. "I've never tried to listen to another teams' calls. A lot of the calls are the same. The coaches move all around, a lot of the calls are the same. I think it's just a misunderstanding. I've never been fined for taking a microphone off. It's a new thing this year with the new CBA. I'm not going to get up here on my soapbox.

"It's a misunderstanding. It's not like I ripped it off because I just didn't want to wear it. I'll appeal it and wait for the final verdict. I will tell them I have my sixth kid on the way. I need all my money for diapers and Cheerios."

GETTING HEALTHIER: Several players returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, including wide receiver Lee Evans and offensive guard Ben Grubbs.

Evans has been hampered by a left ankle injury since the preseason and has missed the past two games.

Grubbs has been out for the past three games with a right turf toe after straining ligaments during the first game of the season.

Also returning to practice: wide receiver and kick returner David Reed (left shoulder), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (right hamstring) and safeties Haruki Nakamura (sprained right posterior cruciate ligament) and Tom Zbikowski (concussion).

Zbikowski isn't cleared for contact yet following a concussion suffered against the Jets. Zbikowski did practice on a limited basis, but Bernard Pollard is listed first on the depth chart at strong safety.

"Feeling better, still taking it day by day," Zbikowski said. "Going to get out there, see how practice feels, obviously no contact, but will just see how it feels running around and stuff. It's a head injury, so can't be messing around, but we'll make it around game-time." Zbikowski said his symptoms are beginning to subside.

"Just the usual stuff," he said. "Just feel cloudy, it's hard to concentrate a little bit, but that's about it. Headaches aren't as bad as they were, but I just want to be able to stay concentrated and I guess comprehend everything we're doing on defense before getting cleared or making a move." Zbikowski said the bye week provided a boost to his recovery.

"Yeah, without a doubt, it definitely helped," Zbikowski said. "Just stayed away from TV, stayed away from anything. Just kind of let my brain relax a bit. Just kind of being in a dark room as much as I could, without sound. Just relax." Rookie running back Anthony Allen (thigh) was limited, too.

Cornerbacks Chris Carr (left hamstring) and Jimmy Smith (high left ankle sprain) didn't practice. "I know everybody's probably asking, ‘What's my deal?'" Carr said. "I've been doing everything possible to get ready. I bought a hyperbaric chamber. I sleep in that. I'm trying to do everything I can to get back on the field. It's just been a very troubling situation, but I've been working hard and hopefully I'll be back soon."

Carr aggravated his hamstring injury in practice leading up to the Jets game

"It's frustrating because up to this game, I've never really missed a game before, so missing one game, I'm just like, ‘How do people do this?'" Carr said "It's been satisfying because we've been winning all these games, and what I tell people all along is we have five legit corners on this team that are starters in this league. And I'm not saying that to be nice, I'm saying that because I believe that's a fact. I knew we were going to be fine. We're a little short right now." Carr said he plans to remain out until he's completely recovered to avoid another setback. "What's happened in the past, once I come back now, it's going to be like, ‘OK, I'm coming back and I'm going to stay back,'" Carr said. "There's going to be no indecision, like, ‘Well, I feel kind of good, I'm about 90 (percent).' No, I'm going to make sure when I come back that I'm 100 percent, because I can't go through this any longer."

Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson (right hamstring) isn't expected to play. He didn't practice Wednesday.

Quarterback Matt Schaub (right shoulder) and fullback James Casey (strained pectoral) also didn't practice.

Several Texans were limited, including running back Arian Foster (quadriceps), linebacker DeMeco Ryans (elbow, hamstring, knee), defensive end Antonio Smith (ankle) and offensive guard Mike Brisiel (ankle, knee). Cornerbacks Jason Allen (knee, groin) and Kareem Jackson (knee) and wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee) participated fully. Reserve running backs Ben Tate (groin, Achilles) and Derrick Ward (ankle) were limited. Wide receiver Bryant Johnson (hamstring) is limited.

PAT MODELL PASSES AWAY Patricia Modell, the wife of former Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, died Wednesday after a battle with pancreatitis. She was 80 years old. Patricia Modell had been admitted to hospice a few weeks ago.

She's survived by her husband, sons John and David and six grandchildren.

A former television and movie actress, Mrs. Modell was extremely active in charity work after the football team moved to Baltimore and during her time in Cleveland. The Modell family has given millions of dollars to several charities. Mrs. Modell served on the following Baltimore boards: House of Ruth, Gilchrist Hospice, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, The Walters Art Museum, and she was a major contributor to the St. Vincent's Center and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The Modells donated $3.5 million to the Lyric Opera House, which was recently renamed the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric. And they pledged $5 million to help start a public boarding school in Maryland for disadvantaged students.

As an actress, Modell appeared in over 400 films and television programs. She was on "General Hospital," "Peyton Place," "Twilight Zone," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Perry Mason" and "Maverick."

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