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A Tale of Two Fullbacks

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Last week, I did a week long series looking at the current running backs on the Patriots’ roster and what I thought each of their roles would be with the team. What I didn’t really talk about last week, however, was what the Patriots are going to do at fullback. As the sport continues to evolve more into a passing league dominated by elite quarterbacks and athletic tight ends, the pure NFL fullback is rapidly going the way of the single wing offense and the sale of beer in stadiums after the 3rd quarter. Where every team once seemed to employ a player like Lorenzo Neal, Le'Ron McClain, and John Kuhn to smash through defenders, open up running lanes, and punch the ball forward on short yardage situations, the days of the fullback may slowly be coming to an end in the National Football League.

And maybe that’s why Bill Belichick went out an acquired two fullbacks this offseason – when everyone else zigs, he zags. While the rest of the league plays checkers, he plays chess. While other coaches are watching Dance Moms, he’s watching Storage Wars. You get the picture.

The Patriots haven’t had a true fullback on the roster since Heath Evans and have since been relying on stopgap players like larger running backs, linebackers, and even a few lineman to step in and fill the position as needed. So when Belichick went out and signed both Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta, it leads me to believe that he has a definitive offensive scheme in mind revolving around incorporating a fullback into the offense. The question, therefore, is who will it be? With Eric Kettani likely headed to the practice squad and so many running backs currently on the roster, Larsen and Fiammetta are left in what is sure to be yet another exciting training camp battle. While each player brings a decent amount of experience and versatility to the position, at the end of the day odds are there will only be one fullback on the 53 man roster come game day.

So, which player makes the most sense? Who will be the Patriots fullback in 2012?

Why it will be Larsen: Larsen brings the kind of versatility that the Patriots love; he plays fullback, linebacker, and can contribute on special teams. He is also reunited with his former head coach, Josh McDaniels, who is known for employing fullbacks in his offensive schemes. Any time a player and coach have a history, it always helps his odds of making the team. McDaniels will know how to get the most out of Larsen and use his quickness, toughness, and high football IQ effectively. Larsen has also proven himself more durable than Fiammetta, who has been a productive yet injury prone fullback during his time with the Panthers and Cowboys.

Why it will be Fiammetta: While Larsen is heralded as the more versatile of the two, Fiammetta has also seen time at tight end and running back, as well as a fair amount of time spent on special teams while in college. Furthermore, in what is a "what have you done for me lately" league, Fiammetta is coming off a stellar year where he blocked for standout running back DeMarco Murray and helped the rookie rack up 897 yards rushing and a 5.5 YPC average. Fiammetta is also, in my opinion, a better pure fullback than Larsen. Where Larsen is more than capable of opening up running lanes, Fiammetta is the better blocking fullback, and if the Patriots are truly committed to establishing a bruising, sustained running game, Fiammetta may have more to offer.

Who will it be?: There is still the whole of training camp to go, obviously, and while making a prediction this early is only slightly more productive than my plan to eat an entire bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken this 4th of July just to make sure the annoying kid at the family barbecue doesn’t get any, I think that the job is Larsen’s to lose at this point. His versatility combined with his knowledge of Josh McDaniels’ coaching style and Fiammetta’s injury history gives Larsen the inside track, assuming that the Patriots do decide to move ahead with a fullback. Plus, Eric Kettani seems to be in position to become the pure blocking fullback that Fiammetta currently represents, which makes Fiammetta more expendable. Of course, now that I’ve said that, the team will cut Larsen next week and then waive Fiammetta towards the end of the preseason, once again restoring order to the world and reminding me why I’m zero for life predicting Patriots transactions.