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The Rebirth of the Fullback Position

I don't like this anymore than you do - but it's something you need to look at.
I don't like this anymore than you do - but it's something you need to look at.

I'll be honest, it bothered me when the Seahawks let Leonard Weaver walk.  He was maybe my favorite player at the time.  And before that, Mack Strong (best football name ever, ... well except Dick Butkus.. actually that's just the best name ever, football or anything) was maybe my favorite player.  I just like watching Fullbacks rumble and tumble and light people up.  Not only that, I think they're pretty important to the offense.  


So it bothered me even more when the Seahawks decided to basically just not have a Fullback.  I was never that high on Owen Schmitt... he was a decent player, never really showed the flashes of brilliance that Leonard Weaver did, but he was good enough.  I wasn't super bothered when they let him walk.  The Hawks' line was being coached by Alex Gibbs, and In Alex We Trusted.  Until he decided to retire right before the season started, thus hamstringing our entire offense.  We traded Rob Sims because of Alex Gibbs.  For a 5th round pick and a guy that now plays for the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL.  Sims would be pretty nice right now at guard.  But that's neither here nor there.  The point being:  we basically let all of our Fullbacks go, and what was left, Quinton Ganther, didn't really pan out.  (Weaver went on to become a Pro-Bowler, Schmitt is now starting for Philly... great)  


It's been said the Hawks want to implement a power-running, smash-mouth rushing attack offense this year, and I see fullback becoming a need.  Last season, the Alex Gibbs/Jeremy Bates offense didn't initially utilize the FB very much, but as the season progressed, we saw more and more of Michael Robinson.  He got hurt in week 7 and missed the next five games, forcing Jon Carlson to fill the void.  Robinson came back for the final seven games and played well.  Really, although I think that Mike did an amazing job at FB considering he was a college QB, neither he nor Carlson really fit the prototype of an NFL Fullback.  


I'm not the only one who thinks the Hawks were/are in need of a true fullback- here's what QB Matt Hasselbeck said after the Hawks beat the Panthers in week 13, where FB Michael Robinson played a big role:

No one wanted to say it, but (if) you don’t have a fullback on your roster, it makes it a little harder, especially in short yardage and goal-line situations, having (Robinson) back is huge. I think it definitely showed up last week.

I'm not going to say that's insubordination, but the writing was on the wall - the Hawks didn't do themselves any favors by neglecting to have any true fullbacks on the roster for the majority of the season and Hass knew it. Do the the Hawks plan to utilize FBs more in 2011?  They seemed to run pretty well when they had a lead blocker going towards the end of the year. The consensus guess so far has been that Tom Cable will be in charge of the running game and Bevell the passing game. If that is so, I can see the Hawks using fullbacks - Cable used them a lot in Oakland and one player in in particular had success and I will bring him up in a minute.


To start the 2010 year, the Seahawks had little value put into a FB. They used Michael Robinson, a college QB and special teams ace there, but he's a bit undersized for that position at 6'1 223.  I like Mike Rob a lot, I think he brings a lot to the table in the running game and especially on Special Teams, but I don't know if he's the ideal size and weight for an NFL fullback.  He's a special teams monster.  He's versatile.  He played QB in college so they can get creative if they need with him on offense.  John Carlson served as the de facto FB when Robinson got hurt and had little success there. The point is - I'd like to see the Hawks sign a free-agent Fullback.


Specifically, RFA FB Marcel Reece.


Reece came into the league as an Undrafted FA WR and caught on with the Raiders... only playing Fullback, not Receiver.  After a couple of years at that position, he is flourishing.  He made a huge impact on the Raiders' offense last year, helping spring Darren McFadden and Michael Bush to big runs and doing his part in making them the 2nd best rushing team in the NFL. During that campaign, he got high praise from then Raiders' coach Tom Cable:

I think there is a skill set there that every week we try to grow it and do something with it, and he's responded everything we've asked him to do. The thing that I see him getting better at is truly playing the fullback position in the backfield. He's starting to strike people and finishing more blocks. He's doing a fine job.

Also from Cable:

The thing that I am most pleased about is he continues to improve as a blocker, and with the way the running game is coming around, that's a significant sign that he's really starting to get it. In terms of him catching it and running it and all that, that's extra. It's frosting.

Reece is 6'3 and 240 lbs. He played receiver in college at UW, so he's got really solid hands.  I would love to see him in a Seahawks uniform.  And not in a Raiders' uniform, tearing the Hawks a new one, like he did in Week 8.  I took a look at the tape:


(9:00 2nd Q) K.Barnes reported in as eligible. J.Campbell pass short left to M.Reece for 30 yards, TOUCHDOWN. (4th and 1)

4th and 1, on the Raiders' 30 Yrd Line. The Raiders start out in a I-Formation, with 2 TE, 1 WR to the right, and Reece at FB, Bush at RB. Reece motions L and runs out to the shortside left wing, off the line. He runs a 5 yard slant, which both Milloy and Heater jump all over, but miraculously the ball gets through, Milloy and Heater tackle each other, and Reece runs straight up the field for a 30 yard TD. 


(6:33 3rd Q) J.Campbell pass short left to M.Reece to SEA 30 for 51 yards (M.Trufant). (2nd and 11)

Raiders lined up in an Offset I-Formation, with Reece as the FB. Reece motions left and the ball is snapped. Campbell play action fakes the handoff to McFadden; Reece blocks the end before releasing for a screen pass. Campbell hits him, Reece turns it upfield and rumbles for 51 yards, breaking a tackle or two along the way.


(3:25 4th Q) M.Reece up the middle to SEA 4 for 31 yards (M.Trufant). (1st and 10).

I-formation again, Reece at FB. The play is a dive; Reece rumbles forward at surprising speed for 31 yards. 


The reason I break down these plays is because I want you to picture the Seahawks having this weapon in their backfield. How many times have we seen Justin Forsett or Marshawn Lynch motion out to the wing and try and play receiver with Matt Hasselbeck in the empty backfield? They do a decent job, but they're running backs through and through, making their pay by being shifty and powerful, making people miss, and finding the right holes to run through, not running routes and catching deep passes. 


Justin Forsett isn't going to run through many tacklers. Neither he nor Lynch are going to win many one-on-one matchups going for the ball, and they're definitely not going to win any jump balls. Most running backs are not as sure handed as I'd like. They're dangerous on swing passes mostly ... but not on slants, posts, or corner routes.  Reece is a dangerous receiver, period. He's a WR by trade, he just happens to play FB at this level. He is big; 6'3 240.  He's fast; ran a 4.4 40 (low) at the combine. He can go up and get balls from defenders (36" vertical). He's extremely hard to tackle. The ability for the FB/RB to motion out and run a vertical route with the ability to catch a deep pass, the the next play run a dive for 31 yards, then the next play lead block for Marshawn Lynch or Forsett/Washington and break them loose for a big gain is not something that the Seahawks have in their repertoire. Michael Robinson is not a great receiver out of the backfield. Most running backs can get the job done on swing passes and screens, but Reece brings a pretty unique skillset to the table. A skillset that I haven't really seen since the Hawks had a guy named Leonard Weaver playing FB. 


Is Reece likely to leave Oakland?  I believe he's a restricted free-agent, so we'd have to pay him a bit and maybe give up a pick, but the way that Oakland is paying their FA's right now, they may not try to hold on to him too hard.  Reece just may want to follow one of the coaches, Tom Cable, that took a chance and signed him after he went undrafted, worked with him, and developed him into such a good player.  We'll see.


Oh, and here's some more UW nostalgia: Reece catching a ball from that one guy, Jake Locker.



Just a little aside- is there ANYONE better at calling a game of any sport than Kevin Calabro? We need to get him calling Hawks' games, and now.  Maybe team him up with Gus "Cold-blooded" Johnson for the dreamteam of the century.


Moving on:  If Reece can't be signed, there is, however, another fullback that I'd love to see end up a Seahawk: Free agent Le'Ron McClain. (seriously, how could you NOT want a guy that smiles like that for his individual team-required photo)


Another guy with a penchant for scoring touchdowns, McClain could come in to play the role of a really traditional fullback for the Hawks.  At 6'0", 260, he has the ideal size.  The 26 year old is a two-time Pro-Bowler that rushed for 908 yrds and 10 TDs on 232 carries in 2008, the last time he got significant touches. After only managing 28 carries last year, it seems as though he may be looking for a more central role on a new team. When asked about returning to Baltimore, he replied,

If I was [coming back], I would probably have been used a little bit more this season and the past two years, it is what is. I’m over that now. Four great years in Baltimore. Now, I’m just looking forward to the future.

Where he does end up is anyone's guess, but I wouldn't mind seeing the Hawks pursue the free-agent.  He'd be a great lead back for Lynch at 260lbs, and could aptly handle goal-line dives and draws as well - something the Hawks desperately need.