Monday, June 16, 2008

Fullbacks, Tight Ends and auxiliary blockers

Prior to the '08 NFL draft, there was much discussion amongst Bronco fans about whether or not a "true fullback" was needed. I admit to being one of those who lobbied for Owen Schmitt. The perceived needs were: better lead blocking on run plays especially out of the I or offset I ("jack"/"king") formations; better blocking in max pass pro situations; a reliable outlet/safety valve receiver to keep backers & DL honest; an extra head hunter/blocker on kick coverage and kick return ST; and, someone with lead in his butt who could occasionally grind some tough yards between the tackles.

There are some who think FBs, in-line blocking TEs and H-backs are becoming passe in the NFL where three and four WR formations are seen often and "receiving TEs" who line up split are now common. Bronco fans may remember Daniel Graham lining up off the LOS as a wing, slot, 40/Z back, H-Back going in motion to kick out, lead, seal, arc release on running plays. Shanahan likes to run the ball. I like that Shanahan likes to run the ball. Some running plays can be deceptive, like counter, but most rely on outnumbering the D at the point-of-attack. A common way of doing that is with a player in motion to playside. If you run out of that look, motion can set up play action pass.

The pro game has different rules than lower levels of football and hashmarks aligned with the uprights of the goalposts so that the ball is always spotted in the middle of the field. Even so, football is football and on offense balance is a good thing. A one-dimensional team is much easier to defend against and game plan for. Teams that seem one-dimensional can surprise their opponents by doing the opposite. NFL teams are capable of changing their style from one week to the next as the New England Patriots have demonstrated on both sides of the ball.

The '08 draft had many football players available at most positions; it was very deep. Fullbacks weren't expected to be drafted before the 5th ,or 4th round at the earliest. Only five FBs were drafted in '08, but an additional twenty or so have been signed as College Free Agents. The Chargers surprised by taking Jacob Hester from LSU in the 3rd. Jerome Felton (Lions) from Furman and Owen Schmitt (Seahawks) were both taken in the 5th. The Dolphins drafted Lex Hilliard, Montana, in the 6th. Why Peyton Hillis, whom many regarded as the top FB in '08, lasted until the 7th no one knows. I've heard rumors that Houston Nutt said some uncomplimentary things about him (how nutty!). Who knows? Bottom line, thanks to Jake Plummer, is that Peyton is now a Bronco and, I would venture to guess, has an excellent shot at making the roster for no other reason than he seems to be the lone, "true FB".

I'm sure Denver's offensive coaches will look at formations with Graham lined up as a TE and Hillis somewhere in the backfield as a FB, Z/40 back, H-Back, wing, in motion in order to have the option of a more power-style running attack. It would be nice for Graham to stay on the LOS and concentrate on those blocking angles while Hillis can take care of the rest. I also hear that the former Razorback has a nice set of hands. Sweet! Let the games begin!

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