On the Vanishing Fullback Position

Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post says that the Broncos are going old school under new head coach Gary Kubiac by bringing back the fullback:

“‘Everyone wants to be an innovator. No one thinks you can get a head coaching job if you are just turning around and handing the ball off. It’s not sexy. But when you need to run out the clock and get those tough first downs, some of those spread offenses can’t do it,’ [Broncos fullback Howard] Griffith said. ‘You have to be able to run. Some people consider it old school. It’s just football, and you need a fullback.'”

I think most teams agree.

The power running game is still healthy and ever-present in the NFL and it just makes sense to attempt to overload the point of attack with blockers. There’s no better way to position a man to do that than to line him up in the backfield where he can read the situation and provide help at the most effective point. Renck elaborates:

“Griffith found himself in an unusual position with the Broncos. He was an electric college running back at Illinois but embraced a selfless role. His vision as a runner helped him as a blocker for Davis. He anticipated how plays would develop, freeing him to pick up weakside defenders off the script.

“‘It’s funny, because I have run into O-line coaches, and they want to know what our calls were on the backside plays. There was never any calls made. We just knew from the defensive alignment where I would go,’ Griffith said. ‘It happened by accident in practice, and where I picked up the most dangerous guy on a play, and we just kind of took it from there.'”

The “disappearance” of the NFL fullback is overrated. It’s true that more than ever teams like to spread the defense out with an extra wide receiver or run more double tight end sets, which puts the big men in a better position to run a pass route. But 23 teams still used a fullback last year and of the teams like the Bears who are left and who don’t list one on their roster, almost all still have plays that call for one. They just line up a “tight end” in the backfield who they have designated to be the fullback on those plays. That would be Dante Rosario on the current Bears roster.

No matter what you call it, the fullback isn’t going anywhere. Except where the ball is.

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