By Aaron Wilson, Times Staff Writer Wednesday, January 14, 2009
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.