With last week’s release of fullback Lawrence Vickers, the Dallas Cowboys look to have gone all in on their belief of the new tight end based offense. The Cowboys organization has long felt that a fullback was needed in the running game, and this release looks to confirm this change in philosophy at Valley Ranch. Over the past two decades, the following are some of the players that have held this position for the team: Daryl Johnston (1989-1999), Robert Thomas (1998-2002), Lousaka Polite (2004-2006), Deon Anderson (2007-2010), Tony Fiametta (2011), and Lawrence Vickers (2012).
While the fullback does not garner much attention in today’s NFL, the position is an important one when it’s played the correct way. The fullback’s primary responsibility is to block, while secondarily can be used sparingly as a runner in usually short distance situations and as a pass catcher out of the backfield. In rushing plays, the fullback will dive through the line of scrimmage and take on the first defender he comes across to lead a path for the tailback. The fullback will also take on the first defender in the backfield when the defense has penetrated early to help the tailback try to avoid a negative play. In passing downs, the fullback will stay by the quarterback to ensure protection, and can leak out for passes if the play calls for it or if the player reads the defense and deems it’s the best thing to do.
By deciding not to carry a fullback on the roster, the Cowboys have put their trust on the fact that the tight ends on the roster will be able to handle these aforementioned responsibilities. The tight ends on the roster as of today are the following: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Dante Rosario, Colin Cochart, and Andre Smith. The option to not carry a fullback on the roster and instead replace those responsibilities with a tight end has gained popularity in recent years in the NFL. However, teams that make these types of personnel moves usually have solid offensive lines that are pretty dependable. With the Cowboys offensive line being the biggest question mark heading into training camp, this move has the potential to be a huge negative on the offensive side of the ball. While tight ends are better pass catchers than fullbacks, they usually don’t block as well due to their height when compared to fullbacks.
While I applaud the move to try and open the offense up more on the field, I’m leery of this move at this time due to the state of the offensive line. While Jason Garrett would get away from the running game way too easily during his tenure of play calling for the team, Bill Callahan is known to like running the ball. With a combination of renewed interest in running the ball, a weak offensive line, and no full back, this offense will be interesting to see if they can figure it out. With DeMarco Murray likely being #1 back heading into the season opener, Murray has always had much more success running when he had a fullback leading for him (Fiametta, Vickers) than he did when he had a tight end leading for him (Phillips).
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