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The Ravens announced Thursday they had cut fullback Vonta Leach and linebacker Jameel McLain, creating more salary cap room for the start of free agency March 11. In a statement released by the team, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not rule out Leach and McClain being re-signed later during the offseason.
“There could come a point later on when we would consider bringing back Vonta and Jameel,” Newsome said. “They are our types of players.”
The moves opened the door for two players the Ravens drafted in 2013 to figure more prominently next season – fullback Kyle Juszczyk and linebacker Arthur Brown. Juszczyk will have an opportunity to play more snaps as a H-back in the offense of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Juszczyk was an excellent receiver in college at Harvard, and coach John Harbaugh said after the season that he expected more from Juszczyk in 2014.
Brown was a second-round pick for the Ravens in 2013, but he played primarily in passing downs and on special teams, as either Josh Bynes or McClain started at inside linebacker next to Daryl Smith. Brown needs to get stronger to shed blockers and become more effective as a run defender. But as a second-round pick, Brown will be expected to contribute more, and his role could become even bigger if the Ravens lose Smith during free agency.
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The departures of Leach and McClain were not surprising. Leach was released after the 2012 season, but he was re-signed during training camp last year. However, despite Leach being one of the NFL’s best blocking fullbacks, the Ravens’ running game sputtered in 2013, and Leach’s snaps diminished as the season progressed. Leach played for Kubiak with the Texans, so the possibility that Leach could be re-signed later should not be ruled out, especially if Juszczyk were to suffer an injury.
McClain made an inspirational comeback last season, starting 10 games after recovering from a career-threatening spinal cord contusion. However, Smith was the Ravens’ best inside linebacker last season, and freeing up cap room to re-sign free agents like Dennis Pitta, Eugene Monroe, and Smith is a bigger priority than keeping McClain.
The news was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.