In this week's podcast Brian alluded again to his spectrum of blocky-hitty to catchy-outie or whatever. Most of this has been touched on before but I thought I might delve a little further into the Fullback/U-back/Tight end descriptors and what Borges means to do with his shiny new knife set.
The coaches call them fullback (Kerridge and Houma), U-back (Shallman and Hill) and Y-Tight End (Funchess, Williams, Butt and Paskorz). By now you ought to be familiar with all of them but just in case:
- Fullback: lines up in the backfield in a position to receive a handoff; may be split, offset, or inline. Kerridge is your pure blocker type; he'll wander out to be a pass option out of the backfield but I've yet to see him run a route more than a few yards from the L.O.S. Houma is supposed to be more of a combo blocker-runner; his quick burst of acceleration and compact body force defenses to respect the threat of a quick dive from him.
- U-back: lines up in the backfield but nearer to the edge of the line, usually outside the tackle opposite the Y-tight end. May also line up as an end (on the line) if the receiver to his side is not on it. This position really encompasses anybody between pure fullback and pure tight end. Wyatt Shallman is the more fullbackian as he's more of a running threat than a pass-catching option, though his size makes him a strong edge blocker. Khalid Hill is an interesting guy for the U since he's supposed to be an accomplished pass catcher and route runner, yet can still lay fullback-like blocks.
- Y-Tight End: lines up on the line (and thus can't move before snap) next to the tackle. A guy whose skills lean receiver may "FLEX" out, which is a fancy way of saying he's playing possession slot receiver. A.J. Williams and to a lesser extent Jordan Paskorz represent the "more like another offensive tackle who may go out and catch something sometimes" end of the Y spectrum, while Funchess and Butt are both on the "more like another receiver who may block something sometimes" extreme. Getting production from this spot this year hinges on getting somebody to get adequate at the part he's not great at, the most likely candidate being Funchess's blocking.
[Jump for discussion and guys and whatnots]
|In his time at Michigan Shea also
made fabulous julienne fries.
Not everyone can be Aaron Shea. Aaron arrived in the 1995 class at a offensive line-like 6'5"/260. He took a redshirt, got down to 235 as a redshirt freshman, and was up to 251 again his senior year in 1999. Michigan played him all over the spectrum, from I-form fullback down to line tight end (though Tuman was usually the Y in that period). He'd be the lone back on those passing downs where Brady would sit in the pocket, then sit a little longer, then either remain sitting until a receiver opened up downfield, or find an open Shea leaking out into the pattern.
By the end of his career Shea was a masterful route runner, which he combined with his athleticism and soft hands to defeat linebackers who tried to cover him. It had to be LBs because he presented a major size problem to defensive backs. He was a lockdown pass blocker, able to stonewall a nose tackle as well as any guard, maintain edge control for as long as it takes to set up a double-reverse or Transcontinental; and a devastating run blocker, able to demolish up to three potential tacklers in a single play.* He was a fair fullbackian ballcarrier who maxed out at six carries in a game, averaging more like 1 or 2.
All of those bolded skills, to which I'd add speed and leaping are what you look for in a FB/TE. That's an awful lot of tools. At most positions standing out in just one or two of these nine can make you successful. However a TE or FB needs at least two in abundance to justify being in there instead of another back or receiver, else the defense will just key to that guy's strength.
Let's see if I can provide an example. In the play below Michigan is running a high-low or "smash" concept—an old fashioned cover-2 beater because it puts receivers to both the top and bottom of the corner's zone—to both sides:
One difference between the play with the U-back and the one with the slot receiver is the defensive personnel. Note that the defense deployed a typical 4-3 under against the Ace 2TE look whereas they'll often put in a nickel when they see the offense trot out three receivers. Obviously you'd rather pass into fewer defensive backs. In the examples above the free safety covering the middle zone will mean the other DBs can worry less about the deep middle and will thus be more likely to narrow the gap between their zones and those of the cornerbacks.
However in order to get that matchup the U-back needs to be a competent enough blocker to convince the defense he's not an extra receiver. And he needs to actually be a threatening pass option. That means his route running must be good enough to hold the linebacker to the inside, his cut and speed need to be good enough to create separation from that linebacker after holding him inside, and he needs the hands and athleticism to turn around and get that pass with a defensive back coming up on him.
Bonus: Usually he's big enough that the charging cornerback just goes "clang!" This play was a staple of Shea's era. Sometimes you would see him put a helpful block on the defensive end before going into that route.
As you progress up toward the fullback end of the spectrum the more you trade receiver attributes for what he can add to the running game.
The pattern has changed; it's no longer a smash on the left side. Rather the fullback is there to scream "we're running power!" (especially if he pre-snaps to the strong side). If he's a devastating run blocker and you've been establishing a running game like this the defense will start overreacting and now you've got lots of extra space for those receivers. If you haven't established that fear of a running game, however, you can make up for it by having that fullback also be a run threat or a receiving threat out of the backfield. Remember Brian Thompson? Never a particularly great blocker, but he was adequate enough at that to justify getting his receiving skills on the field. B.J. Askew was an adequate enough blocker to justify getting his running skills on the field.
The blocking for a fullback is different than that for a tight end; he's more like a guard or center versus the tackle-type blocking you'll expect from your Y. A fullback is often a lead blocker; in pass pro he often collects whatever broke through or assists the one-on-one linemen. A tight end's blocking is a lot more arms-oriented and point-of-attack (especially if he's the Y): driving his guy downfield, finding and latching onto a linebacker downfield, or just maintaining an edge block.
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is a master of these multi-tool tight ends, and under their current sanctions he's making them the centerpiece of his offense. Michigan isn't going to get that extreme, if for no other reason than we're still allowed to recruit lots of wide receivers, and we've got really good ones on the roster and on the way. But here's a little example of something you will probably see Michigan one day:
Threats: convincing play-action as Michigan lines up heavy and sends the FB and RB into the hole they've been running at all day (these guys can run patterns too). The U-back and X receiver are running a smash to the weak side cornerback, who is all alone versus these two guys because the safety and linebacker on his side are lined up to react to the run. Meanwhile you've got a really tall, really leapy Y tight end looking for holes in a zone ostensibly covered by the same middle linebacker who's dealing with the RB and FB; those other defenders are going to have to abandon their own zones on the fly in order to deal with him.
When he's done screwing with the MIKE's keys, that fullback can now scoot into the flat and be the under in another smash. This was just one passing concept; Borges can have his entire West Coast passing game available out of a set that just screams power running. You run into an Aaron Shea once in a lifetime; what Michigan has done is recruit a bunch of multi-tools so as to threaten all the things from a variety of formations.
*I would show the video of that again but the creeps did their thing to it. I guess send another letter to [email protected]?
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