In this article, I will compare former Ravens Fullback Vonta Leach and the 2014 starting Fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Vonta’s primary purpose in the Ravens offense was to open holes for Ray Rice. After the 2013 season where Leach was on the field for 45 snaps over the last six games, the Ravens parted ways with the 3x All-Pro Fullback and gave the starting Fullback job to 2nd year player Kyle Juszczyk. For consistency in my analysis, I used the broadcast views from the 2011-2013 seasons and the 2014 Preseason in my comparison of Leach and Juszczyk. There are two areas of my analysis – The Fullback’s role as a lead blocker and as a pass catching receiver.
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The lead blocker
Vonta Leach was a 2x Pro-bowl fullback with the Ravens. As a lead blocker in the power run game, Leach successfully blocked Linebackers allowing Ravens’ Running Backs to make positive gains.
In 2011, on this play against the Browns, the Ravens run a Lead Open running play. In a lead open running play, each lineman is assigned a blocker and the Fullback ends up one on one with the Linebacker. Vonta attacks the hole and uses his power to drive the linebacker away. Typically, Vonta also finishes his blocks. Who can forget his block on Patrick Willis during the Thanksgiving Day game in 2011?
During the Preseason game 1 against the 49ers, the Ravens run a similar Lead Open running play. There are a couple of differences here. The Ravens and 49ers are have their 2nd team personnel on the field. Also, the 49ers defender in the backfield is a result of poor blocking by the Center. As a lead blocker, Kyle Juszczyk is able to obtain good leverage in order to drive the linebacker away allowing Pierce to gain 8 yards on the play.
Juszczyk also finishes his block on the play.
As a Pass Catching Receiver
Vonta Leach was primarily used as a short yardage receiver where the defense lined up in a run stopping formation. In the 2011 season, the Bengals have 7 men ‘in the box’ with the Strong Safety walking down from his normal alignment of 15 yards away from the Line of Scrimmage to help in run defense. This leaves man coverage on receivers and a single high safety covering the deep secondary.
The Ravens offense runs play action where Rice gets the Strong Safety to commit to covering him thinking he has the ball. Vonta Leach is able to run a flat pattern. Since 8 defenders were committed to stop Rice, the only defender that is able to make a play is the Free Safety.
Flacco throws to an open Leach for a 4 yard gain.
During the 2014 Preseason Game 2, the Ravens used a similar play for Kyle Juszczyk against the Dallas Cowboys defense. The Cowboys have 7 defenders in the box with both safeties playing in their typical alignments. The Ravens are in a tight formation giving the indication of a running play. The Ravens then run a bootleg play action which allows Juszczyk to get open.
The Ravens run a play-action fake to the left using Bernard Pierce as the running back. The Cowboys defense commits to stop the run. This leaves Juszczyk open for an easy catch. This is a typical Gary Kubiak designed play.
The formation gave the defense a look of a running play and the Cowboys defense ended up over pursuing on the run fake. The result was a 4 yard gain that could have gone further. Flacco threw the ball a little too late which allowed the Cowboys Cornerback to make a tackle.
Something to watch for in the third preseason game
Juszczyk is more of a hybrid fullback who can play the tight end position in addition to a Halfback and Slot Receiver. Against the Cowboys, the Ravens motioned Juszczyk from the Fullback to a Slot Receiver.
The Ravens originally lined up in a tight offset I-formation which led the Cowboys to line up in a run stopping defense. By motioning Juszczyk into the slot position, the Ravens offense force the Cowboys into a cover 1 formation. This allows Flacco to take advantage of single coverage on receivers. During the third preseason game, look for Juszczyk to motion out to different positions on the field.
At 6-foot-1, 248 pounds, Juszczyk is not a traditional Fullback like Leach. He is a physical blocker who has been able to finish his blocks (bringing a defender down), but is more mobile. His mobility will allow the Ravens to utilize him at fullback, Tight End and Slot Receiver. In terms of comparisons to other players, Juszczyk has a closer resemblance to former Texans fullback James Casey, who caught 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in 2012 for the Texans while playing for Kubiak.