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Position Preview: Fullbacks
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SAN DIEGO – The opening image for a commercial advertising a national seafood franchise depicts a man lounging at the end of an ocean pier, monitoring dozens of fishing poles.
A bystander can’t contain his curiosity.
“So, what you going for?” he asks.
Says the fisherman: “I want it all!”
He’s more muscle-bound, but fullback Mike Tolbert would make a fine candidate to replace the eager capitalist, and not just because he played college football for Coastal Carolina, eight miles west of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Like the fisherman, he wants it all.
“I want to run the ball, I want to catch the ball, I want to block. I want to do it all,” Tolbert said. “Whatever they call on me to do, I’ll do it.”
Pile-driving bulk can be an expendable asset in the 21st-century NFL. It carries a value, but sometimes is discarded if not paired with other skills. Teams want to threaten defenses from every position.
Those who followed Jacob Hester’s college career know that San Diego boasts two fullbacks with a history of success carrying the football. Hester, the starting tailback on LSU’s 2007 national championship team, rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a senior for the Tigers.
Hester collected 4.2 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per reception during the first two seasons of his NFL career.
“You’ve got (former Charger) Lorenzo Neal, who is a great fullback and is going to make the Hall of Fame, but you’ve got to understand that the game is changing,” Tolbert said. “It’s becoming more of a passing league and you need all the guys to be able to run out of the backfield and run the ball and things like that, so you get lighter, quicker guys to play fullback that can also carry their own inside the pile.”
That presents a quandary. Technique plays an overriding role, but this equation for blocking remains: force is a derivative of mass. Even in the NFL, it takes a rare breed to pair speed and quick feet with the hulk needed to generate a human battering ram.
Add to that a myriad of responsibilities as running back, pass catcher, lead blocker and special teams force and it’s a tricky duty.
“But that’s what you get paid for. That’s what I love to do, so I put the work and the time and the effort to do it,” Tolbert said.
At 5-foot-9, 243 pounds, he made modest contributions as a skill player last season, gaining 340 yards of total offense and scoring four touchdowns. But his 5.9 yards per carry and 11.3 yards per catch bested Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who broke the NFL’s all-time mark with 2,509 yards from scrimmage.
“Mike did a good job with the ball,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “We’re getting him ready to play fullback and we’re getting him ready to play tailback. How games go and how we go as a team will determine how many carries he gets, but I expect him to be a big part of what we do offensively.”
First-round pick Ryan Mathews and the elusive Darren Sproles likely will draw attention as primary ball carriers, which could make it difficult for defenses to account for Tolbert and Hester.
“I feel like I’m definitely a surprise to a lot of people. They see (me) and don’t think I’m as fast as I am or my feet are as quick as they are,” Tolbert said. “The speed surprises a lot of people and catches them off guard, and by that time I’m already in the end zone or making first downs.”
Perhaps the least hyped way to make an impact is on special teams, where Hester scored two touchdowns last year compared to one he managed on offense. Hester returned a fumbled punt 41 yards for a score against Pittsburgh and recovered a blocked punt in the end zone two weeks later.
Billy Latsko, out of fellow SEC school Florida, enters mid-July as the third fullback on the roster. He’s spent time with three NFL franchises, including the last two years on the Chargers practice squad. Promoted to the 53-man roster in Carolina and San Diego, Latsko has yet to make his NFL debut. ReadRead
|FULLBACKS AT A GLANCE|
Became team’s most consistent runner as judged by yards per carry, averaging 5.9 yards … Rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown … Also caught 17 passes and averaged 11.3 yards per reception, netting three TDs … Made the Chargers in 2008 as an undrafted free agent out of Costal Carolina. Read
Started 10 games last season in the backfield … Produced 98 total yards of offense on 30 touches … Rushed for 46 yards on seven carries during a 32-2 win at Denver on Nov. 22 … Also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Kansas City and recovered a fumble for a touchdown on a punt against Pittsburgh … Drafted in the third round out of LSU in 2008. Read
Spent the last two seasons on the practice squad in San Diego … Also a member of the Carolina Panthers practice squad in 2007 … Has been activated to the 53-man roster by the Chargers and Panthers but has yet to make his NFL debut after graduating from Florida in 2006 … Also spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers … Celebrated the birth of his daughter, Cameron Lee, in June.
Week 1 starting fullbacks, 2000-09:
2000: Fred McCrary.
2001: Fred McCrary.
2002: Fred McCrary.
2003: Lorenzo Neal.
2004: Lorenzo Neal.
2005: Lorenzo Neal.
2006: Lorenzo Neal.
2007: Lorenzo Neal.
2008: Mike Tolbert.
2009: Jacob Hester.
Week 1 fullbacks on roster, 2000-09:
2000: Fred McCrary.
2001: Fred McCrary.
2002: Fred McCrary.
2003: Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock.
2004: Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock.
2005: Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock.
2006: Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock.
2007: Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock.
2008: Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester.
2009: Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester. Read