Unsung heroes? How about the modern role of the Fullback in the NFL? These guys are expected to be lead blockers in the running game and bulldozers in pass protection… but rarely touch the ball.
Vonta Leach (formerly of the Houston Texans who signed a free agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens this season for 3 years at $11 milz) may be the highest profile FB in the biz these days… but he has kind words for the Eagles’ Owen Schmitt, who plays a similar role for the Eagles in 2011, albeit at a much lower salary ( about $555,000)…
“Owen’s good, very good,” said Leach in a phone call he accepted from me last night. “He reminds me of the way I try to play. We all saw the hit he put on Shawntae Spencer last year in your game against the 49’ers… it was picture-perfect. That’s the role we live for and we enjoy. We don’t need the ball in our hands to know we are contributing to the success of a play. That’s just the way we like it. We concentrate on one thing, one type of skill… If you get the ball to us, we feel it’s a bonus opportunity.”
Schmitt goes 6-2, 245 in his 4th year out of West Virginia U. via the Seattle Seahawks, who drafted him in the 6th round in 2008… Vontay Leach is just a tad bigger and quicker than Schmitt… but it’s guys like these that are crucial and essential to setting up opportunities for the QB’s and the scatbacks and the flyboys to find the openings they need to do their thing…
Schmitt does get the occasional carry or outlet dump pass, as he did here in last year’s October game vs. the Redskins…
Said Leach: “A lot of people don’t understand what a fullback brings to the table — the physicality, the reads, the play-action that opens up the pass, plus being a hard-nosed player. We do everything they ask us to do.”
Leach is so good at what he does that he was voted #65 in the NFL’s Top 100 Players this year by that preseason poll of the players they did at the NFL Network…
And with the unfortunate demise of Leonard Weaver due to career-ending injury, Leach is now the highest-paid FB in the game…
One of the similarities between Schmitt and Leach is that both can now say they have earned their stripes in a zone-blocking offense. Back in Houston, and now in Philadelphia, you need a fullback who not only has to move men out of the way, but he has to do it all while playing in the most difficult system for a fullback. In the zone-block system the fullback is asked to read the defense just like the running back and the linemen. The difference is that he is asked to do it a few feet closer to the line of scrimmage than the running back. Making matters even more challenging, in a zone system most of the reads are made after the snap.
Schmitt is asked to read the second level, pick a hole and move through it in almost half the distance that LeSean McCoy is asked to do the same thing. You can imagine how difficult that must be. In a power system the reads are usually pre-snap and therefore the fullback knows what they are doing before the ball is snapped. In the Eagles’ new zone-block system, almost all of what Schmitt is doing mentally is happening after the snap. It’s happening fast, but so far he’s doing it well.
Wild stuff, and a lot of brainwork.
Zone-block mania has also greatly affected the role of Brent Celek (whom I like) in the role of tight end….
Because he has developed into such a solid blocker, he is more apt to be protecting quarterback Michael Vick in Sunday’s game at Atlanta or zone-blocking on a running play than trying to catch passes.
“Brent has always been an excellent and high-level player in all aspects of the game,” Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said earlier this week. “He really is a fine blocker and he’s very good in the pass game. I know his numbers aren’t quite there, but that’s a little bit cyclical. There will be certain games where I hope (to get Celek more involved as a receiver).”
Celek, who is in his fifth season, was not very involved last week. He had only three passes thrown his way and caught one during a 31-13 victory at St. Louis. His lone reception was a big one, however. His 13-yard catch on a third-and-10 play in the second quarter led to a 34-yard field goal by place-kicker Alex Henery that gave the Eagles a 17-10 halftime lead.
“What matters is that you know you’re playing well overall,” Celek said earlier this week. “If you start basing things off of stats. … There are going to be times when guys have a hundred (receiving) yards, but they haven’t played a good game. You’ve got to critique yourself on the film and get better from that and not worry about stats.”
Celek, 26, saw his role begin to change last season. He had a breakout year in 2009, catching 76 passes for 971 yards and eight touchdowns and topping the 100-yard mark in three games. Last year, he caught just 42 passes for 511 yards and four TDs with no 100-yard games.
Celek will spend more time picking up blitzes than running pass routes. “It will depend on the game,” Mornhinweg said. “We have a lot of guys and one guy’s numbers might be up for one game and someone else’s the next game. We’re not concerned about that and the players aren’t concerned about that. It’s whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Celek, who now weighs 265 pounds, helped McCoy rush for 122 yards and score two TDs against the Rams and give Vick enough time to connect with Jackson for six passes for 102 yards and a TD. In the offseason, Celek trained on his own and added approximately 10 pounds of muscle in an effort to handle opposing defensive ends and linebackers. “I just tried to put on some muscle and get a little bigger,” Celek said. “There are times when you take a lot of hits during a season and if you don’t have a little bit of extra muscle there, you’re going to get beat up later in the year.
“I have a certain job to do on every single play and my goal is to do that to the best of my ability.”
Here’s the scoreboard from last week in the EEB FFL.
The Nut Chokers at McLuvin’s Pastries (98-144)
How you like Dem APPLES! J Huston at The Amputatoe’s (88-180)
Team BONE at Team Conahan (89-108)
Lancaster Rubber necks at Sunnys Jock Strap (56-197)
Green Machine at Team Jax Eagles (80-137)
Dem Stinken Bums at Marty Funkhouser (143-206)
the correct name off this FF league is…….”BRISUKSEGGS” FF Football league
LEO’s LINE by Leo Pizzini
so after a mediocre 10-5 start… here’s my line for this week:
OAK – 24 BUFF – 21
GB – 38 CAR – 23
KC – 20 DET – 23
TB – 24 MIN – 21
CHI – 26 NO – 36
JAC – 17 NYJ – 24
SEA – 13 PIT – 31
BAL – 33
HOU – 23 MIA – 27
SD – 31 NE – 37