Football is a game of trends. It’s about like anything else. Fads come and go, and coaches follow them just like anything else. If you turn on an NFL game from 15 years ago, you’ll usually see every offense incorporate some sort of 2 back set on every drive. Teams wanted a good fullback and they believed it was vital to the success of their offense. The philosophy was simple; they needed a good runner and a guy who could block for him. My high school coach used to tell me that the fullback was a glorified offensive lineman, which seemed true to me. Fullbacks take on linebackers and defensive lineman snap after snap, trying to clear the way for the runner behind them. If they’re lucky, they might get a few carries on third and short or even a pass thrown their way from time to time. They don’t sound as sexy as a wide receiver making highlight plays, but the fullback relishes in their role on the team.
One thing I noticed in the Packers first preseason game of the year was that LaFleur wants to bring that back. Personally, I think it’s a great idea. I love offenses that use the fullback. Look at what Kyle Shanahan is doing over at San Fransico. They use a fullback more than any other team I’ve seen in the league. As a result, they went from the 21st best rushing offense in the league to the 13th. I tend to believe that the fullback has something to do with that.
Green Bay is all too familiar with the role of a fullback. Look at how John Kuhn was used in Mike McCarthy’s offense, and later Aaron Ripkowski. The fullback is always a well known position around Titletown. From Jim Taylor in the 60’s to William Henderson in the 90s and now Danny Vitale of today. He’s already becoming a fan favorite and its easy to see why. The fullback can relate to fans better than any position on the field. He carries the blue-collar persona that the average football fan can relate to. The “bring your lunch pale” to work attitude. That’s the role of the fullback, and it’s one I’m excited to see make a return to the Packers offense.
First play of the game LaFleur goes right to it. Here, he used a little motion with Vitale and Kizer ended up heaving it deep. Out of this look though, the possibilities are endless. The offense could run a power concept where Vitale kicks out the EMOL and the guard pulls to lead in the hole. They could run a toss to the outside with Vitale leading, or possibly an isolation play where Vitale goes one on one with the inside linebacker. A simple formation like this keeps the defense on their toes.
Again, the offense starts out here in a balanced I formation. The quick motion by Vitale gives him a bit of a head start. On the toss play, he takes a nice 45-degree angle step and heads upfield, looking for the scraping linebacker. The player he will most likely block will either be the playside inside linebacker or the edge, depending on what they show up front. Little gains like this on first down can really set up play plays off of play-action.
I’ve briefly mentioned it before, but the lead play is one of the best plays to run with a fullback. Watch Vitale here as he leads up on the middle backer. This is the block a fullback lives for. He has to have a wide base, explosive hands and roll the hips through the block. If you’ve seen any of the practices this year at training camp, you’ll notice that they practice this specific block on the one-man sled. The hands should explode up through the chest plate on the linebacker. The back should then read the block and make the cut accordingly. Vitale gets a little out of position here after making contact.
A fullback is another great way to get an extra blocker in the game on 6 and 7 man protection looks. Here, backup fullback Malcolm Johnson lines up in an offset I look, coming across the formation to pick up any free rushers coming from the short side of the field. The action fake looks to be a split zone look, where a blocker comes down the line of scrimmage to pick up the end man on the line of scrimmage on the backside while the running back runs to the other side. It can be a common look out of this formation and Johnson does a good job of having a wide base to take on any rushers. One of the fullbacks biggest strengths is his blocking abilities, so having an extra blocker like him in there can give a quarterback more time to throw.
Needless to say, I loved what I saw from the offense on Thursday. These were things that felt abandoned by last year’s team. I would call it a fresh breath of life, but honestly, this is something coaches have been running for years. I’m hoping to see more of it when the Packers travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens this week.
Follow me on Twitter: @PTTF_Ben