Ravens sign FB Neal to backfield

WESTMINSTER -- The Baltimore Ravens signed four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal, injecting their offense with a hard-nosed, helmet-busting presence with vast NFL blocking experience. Neal is an accomplished lead blocker who has paved a path for a 1,000 yard rusher for 11 consecutive seasons.

Although Neal, 37, is up in years and entering his 16th season, he has remained in good condition and relatively injury-free. He collaborated with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for four seasons as his starting fullback with the San Diego Chargers from 2003 to 2006 and is regarded as a strong locker-room leader.

Neal was cut by the Chargers in February one year after signing a $5.1 million contract extension that made him the league's highest-paid fullback.

"He's one of the finest professionals that I've had the privilege to work with," Cameron said. "When you talk about a Raven, he's a guy who is physical, competitive and wants to win. After being here a while, one of the first guys I thought of was Lorenzo Neal."

Neal wasn't made available to reporters after taking and passing his physical.

Prior to signing Neal, the Ravens were down to just one fullback after cutti ng Justin Green.

Now, the Ravens envision Neal as a complement to Le'Ron McClain while experimenting with a new role for McClain as a tailback. McClain is a burly 6-foot, 260 pounds, but has some explosiveness in his running style and pass-catching ability.

"He's going to be a great complement to Le'Ron," Cameron said. "He gives us a fullback who's a heck of a player, but he also gives us some flexibility with Le'Ron."

With starting running back Willis McGahee sidelined after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, the Ravens are searching for solutions for their ailing running game. Neal's addition could free up McClain for a new role in a full-house backfield.

"That's a realistic possibility," Cameron said. "That's not something we're going to do in an emergency. With Willis' situation, it helps us. It gives us some depth that we didn't have."

At 5-foot-11, 255 pounds, the stout former Fresno State All-American wrestler is an enforcer in the running game with a reputation for doling out crushing hits. During his college days, Neal once took on a sumo wrestler and held his own in an exhibition match prior to the Japan Bowl.

Neal has previously blocked for standout runners Warrick Dunn, Eddie George, Corey Dillon and LaDainian Tomlinson.

"The thing about him is that the players all know him," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They all respect him. All of our linebackers have been hit by him.

"Kelly Gregg has been hit by him. As a matter of fact, he threw off Kelly Gregg's facemask a few years ago. Kelly still has the facemask in his den. He's the kind of guy we want on our football team."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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