'Little Jimmy Leonhard' packs a wallop

OWINGS MILLS -- "Thank God for little Jimmy Leonhard," veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce exclaimed after the Baltimore Ravens toppled the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional playoff victory Saturday night. Little Jimmy Leonhard?

It almost sounded like Pryce was talking about Tiny Tim from "A Christmas Carol" or legendary former Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger instead of a hard-hitting strong safety who gave himself a mild concussion with his fumble-causing hit on Titans tight end Alge Crumpler.

At 6-foot-2, 262 pounds, Crumpler dwarfed the 5-8, 186-pound Leonhard in height and bulk. Yet, he was no match for Leonhard's aggressiveness as his tackle combined with linebacker Bart Scott separated him from the football and staved off the Titans' march into the Ravens' red zone.

"He's a football player, and that's what I like about Jim," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Throw away how big you are, how fast you are, throw away all that crap, I just want a football player. Jimmy, he's a football player. "Some guys might not be the ideal size, some guys might not be the ideal speed. Give me a football player, and I can get a championship."

Leonhard posted five tackles, recovered a fumble and registered a 29-yard punt return in the Ravens' 13-10 win over the Titans that propelled them into the AFC title game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. All season, Leonhard has answered the call after replacing Dawan Landry in the starting lineup when he suffered a season-ending spinal cord concussion against the Cleveland Browns.

He ranks fourth on the team with 85 tackles, has one sack and an interception while returning nine punts for an 11.6 average and eight kickoffs for a 20.4 average. Since the playoffs started two weeks ago, Leonhard has a dozen tackles, a half-sack, an interception, a pass deflection and one fumble recovery and forced fumble.

"My journey this year has been great," Leonhard said. "Just to meet these people in this locker room and this organization and to be able to help out and play well, it's been so much fun. "I tell all the reporters around here this is the most fun I've had playing football in a long time. It's a combination of things. There are just so many tremendous people in this organization that it's hard not to go out and have fun every day playing this game."

On his fumble recovery, Leonhard was in position to tackle running back LenDale White on the perimeter when linebacker Jarret Johnson popped the football out from behind. The football sailed directly into Leonhard's grasp. Signed by the Ravens following a spring minicamp tryout after being discarded by the Buffalo Bills, Leonhard has continually impressed the coaching staff and his teammates.

"He's a big-time athlete, but not the biggest," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said earlier this season. "He plays like a Raven. He's smart, passionate and physical. He's our kind of guy."

A walk-on from rural Ladysmith, Wis., Leonhard went undrafted out of Wisconsin despite earning a full scholarship in tying the school record with 21 interceptions and finishing his career as the Big Ten Conference's career leader with 1,347 punt return yards with three touchdowns. Now, he's making a name for himself in Baltimore.

"I'm a competitor and like to go out there and win," Leonhard said. "Whatever it takes on this team to win is what I want to do. I was fortunate enough to be placed in positions to make plays, and the fumble bounces right to me and things like that.

"It's all about winning on this team. Luckily, I was the guy to be in that position last week. You never know who it will be this week."

NOTE: Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs sounded much more pessimistic about whether he'll be able to play against the Steelers, detailing during a radio interview how his right shoulder popped out against the Titans. He said he might be able to play against Pittsburgh if he wears a special harness to hold the joint inside the socket.

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


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