OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — It’s been a strange week for Vonta Leach, who really can’t get a handle on the way he’s supposed to feel about facing his former teammates on the Houston Texans.
Leach spent five years in Houston, dutifully paving holes for a variety of running backs that benefited greatly from the fullback’s unselfish willingness to sacrifice his body. But the Texans balked this summer at the prospect of spending big money to bring Leach back, so the 2010 Pro Bowl star signed an $11 million, three-year deal with Baltimore.
And so, when the Ravens host the Texans on Sunday, Leach will be going up against players with whom he forged tight friendships over the past several years.
“It’s going to be fun and weird,” Leach said. “I’m going to have mixed emotions leading up to the game and during the game. But hey, we’re all professionals. I want to win, and when the game starts, it’s on.”
A victory will enable Baltimore to stay alone atop the AFC North. That’s what is important to Leach, rather than revenge or the desire to prove the Texans were silly to let him walk.
“Yeah, I’m playing against the guys I’ve been in the locker room with for five years, but I don’t think I left on a bad note,” he said. “I was happy, they were happy. It was just one of those situations where they had other parties they had to take care of, and I was the odd man out.”
With Leach leading the way, Houston running back Arian Foster last season amassed an NFL-high 1,616 yards rushing. Leach now is assigned to open holes for Ray Rice, who did everything but throw a party when Baltimore signed the 6-foot, 260-pound wrecking ball.
Rice, who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, is delighted to step in line behind Leach — on the field and in the locker room.
“He’s the perfect fit,” Rice said. “He came in a leader. He’ll be the first to grab a group, put us together on the sideline, put us together in meetings, whatever.”
Leach also offers advice to coach John Harbaugh, albeit with a respectful smile.
“He’s a character guy who’s also quite the character, we’ve come to find,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve had lots of laughs. He’s on me all the time about being too nervous and stuff like that. He’s also helped us with the run game, obviously.”
To say the least. Backup running back Ricky Williams is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and Baltimore’s rushing game is clicking at 4.3 yards per attempt, a significant increase over last year’s average of 3.8 yards.
Foster misses his former backfield mate. He’s looking forward to the reunion on Sunday, especially because they won’t be on the field at the same time during the game.
“It’s going to be a little weird. He was one of the guys that took me under his wing when I first got here,” Foster said. “But the NFL is a crazy business, and that’s part of it. Guys move on throughout their careers, and they go to better situations for them and their family. I’m happy for him.”
Not only did Leach become the highest-paid fullback in the league with Baltimore, but he joined a hard-hitting club that has made the playoffs for three years running and is considered to be among the best in the NFL.
“When you talk about a Super Bowl contender, you talk about the Baltimore Ravens. This team is always in the postseason,” Leach said. “I just want to be a part of that. It’s been good for me; I’m a good fit here. I’ve been accepted by the players here and the coaches. I really like it.”
Like Leach, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard will put aside ties with the Texans on Sunday in an effort to help the Ravens improve to 4-1. Pollard played the past two seasons with Houston before signing as a free agent with Baltimore on Aug. 4.
“I have no hard feelings,” Pollard said. “I’m just ready to play football.”
Pollard says Leach is the same person he was in Houston, except “he’s just got a little more money in his pocket.”
So does Pollard, and now he and Leach are looking to snare a championship ring as Ravens. On Sunday, they will put old friendships on hold and take care of business against the Texans.
“We’re looking to go somewhere, and we have to go through them to get there,” Pollard said. “That’s just how it is.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)