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Leach Earned First NFL Start Against Browns


Second-year-fullback Vonta Leach's stomach did not have time to nervously churn in anticipation of his first NFL start.

That's because he became aware of that role seconds before it occurred.

"Going into the game I didn't know if I was going to get the start," Leach said. "There was never an indication."

He ran down the field to block on Sunday's initial kickoff return. After the touchback, he started to jog to the sideline when running backs coach Edgar Bennett pointed at him to remain in the game.

Against the Cleveland Browns Leach logged 18 offensive snaps, which amounts to 23.4 percent of the offense's plays. He caught one pass for five yards, but lead blocking for running backs and slowing pass rushers constituted most of his duties. On several short-yardage plays, he pummeled the Browns' safeties.

Leach, however, remained critical of his performance, citing his need to improve his balance and use his hands more effectively while blocking.

"I still have a long ways to go," he said.

William Henderson, a 2004 Pro Bowler and 11-year-veteran, likely will receive the majority of the snaps at fullback. But Leach serves as an ideal alternative. The Packers do not need to change the offense for either player because of their similar styles. They list Leach at one inch shorter and two pounds less than the 6-1, 252-pound Henderson.

"We're interchangeable," Leach said.

His ascension to Week Two starter completes a topsy-turvy September. The Packers released him on Sept. 3, signed him to the practice squad on Sept. 5, promoted him to the active roster on Sept. 6 and awarded him his first start on Sept. 18.

"It's still been a rollercoaster," he said. "But the Packers know what I can do."

His September made up for a disappointing August. He tore a knee ligament during training camp and missed all but the first preseason game. He did not begin sprinting until two weeks before the regular season.

Leach has become used to the ups and downs of life in the NFL. The Packers originally signed him on April 20, 2004 before waiving him in the final roster cutdown and then signing him to the practice squad. The Packers activated him for the last six games of last season and used him mostly on special teams.

Leach will continue as a valued member of that unit regardless of how much time he sees at fullback. He recorded four coverage tackles in his six games in 2004.

On both special teams and offense, Leach uses the physical presence he honed during college. He played linebacker until the middle of his junior season at East Carolina University and possesses the attitude of defender ready to decleat his opponent.

"He's a plowhorse," head coach Mike Sherman said. "He's a very physical player."

The coaching staff has not announced whether they will give Leach more touches on offense or increase his repetitions, but the future looks bright for a player who was without a team as recently as Sept. 3.

"Obviously Will's the starter," Leach said. "But as far as me getting playing time, I think that will continue."

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