Thursday, June 26, 2014

Training Camp Position Preview: Fullback

Daniel House explains why the fullback position is less important in Norv Turner's offensive scheme and he tells you how that will impact offensive roster cuts. 

Updated: June 26th, 2014 11:55am

By: Daniel House

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has placed a strong emphasis on multiple-tight-end sets during every stop he has made in the league. With Turner's emphasis on multiple-tight-end sets and his use of three or more wide receivers, the fullback position could have a tough time landing in the offensive scheme. To put this into context, Norv Turner's offense in Cleveland last year had three wide receiver sets on the field for 559 snaps, which was 112 more than the Vikings registered last season. Cleveland had two running backs on the field for just 53 snaps last year (9th fewest in the league) and ran on just 23 of those plays.

The tight end will be a prominent fixture in the Vikings offense, making the roster moves at the fullback position more difficult. The intent is to involve Adrian Peterson in the passing game more, meaning a run blocking full back like Jerome Felton will have to become more diverse, or risk being eliminated from the offensive plans. Rhett Ellison was primarily a fullback in the previous regime, but now he is listed a tight end and will play a bigger role in that avenue. He has the experience to do what Felton does, along with the skill-set to be athletic and catch passes out of the backfield. Players who can catch passes and be multi-faceted at the fullback position will have a better chance to make the roster. What players fit that mold? Let's take a look.

Jerome Felton: As I discussed above, Jerome Felton will need to become more diverse to fit in Norv Turner's offensive scheme. Run blocking fullbacks are fine and dandy, but in Turner's system, he is looking for players who can catch the ball, along with displaying the run blocking skills necessary to be an overall offensive threat. Two running back sets just aren't seen in Norv Turner's philosophy. In fact, the majority of the time, the Vikings will be in single-back sets with three wide receivers on the field. Does this make Felton expendable if another player like Zach Line can do his job, while being more diverse at the position group? Yes, and if the Vikings keep three (or even four) tight ends, the probability of Felton being released becomes less of a distinct reality. He'll be a free agent after 2015, but there's just $666,000 left on his signing bonus. The Vikings could financially make this move and it would make sense if Norv Turner likes what he sees from multiple players at the tight end position group.

Zach Line: Zach Line spent the majority of the season on injured reserve, but did see time during Jerome Felton's suspension at the start of last season. He proved he can provide skills similar to a running back, while being able to cover the fullback duties, as well. That not only makes Line more marketable, but it will ultimately help his chances when roster cuts role around. He was known for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield at the college level and actually had a long receiving touchdown in the preseason. He can play running back in a pinch and he has the flexibility to be a hybrid running back/fullback. Line adds a strong work ethic to the table and according to several reports, he has the capability to learn quickly. If he can perform well enough on the practice fields at training camp, he can make a push for a roster spot.

As I discussed, don't be surprised if the Vikings keep four tight ends and just one fullback. It all comes down to whether Norv Turner feels the solid run blocking from Jerome Felton, or the diversity of Zach Line are more important. Both of them could make the roster if the Vikings keep only three tight ends, but this seems less likely based upon various reports out of practice. Ultimately, the philosophy will be witnessed early in training camp, when we see how the offense is structured, but the fullback position appears less important than in year's past.

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