Happy Training Camp week, everyone! Over the next few days leading into and throughout training camp, I'll be highlighting and previewing a particular position each day. Today we look at the fullback position.
From the time period of 2009-2011, the idea of bringing in a fullback to camp was something almost unheard of to the New England Patriots. You have to date back to 2008, when the team had Heath Evans, to find the last time the Patriots had a fullback on their opening week roster.
But heading into the 2012, the Patriots are expected (baring a mass-release this evening) to break that fullback drought; as they will bring not one, not two, but three fullbacks to training camp. All with different strengths and their own unique story.
Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta and Eric Kettani aren't really your "average Joe" football players. All three have endured many setbacks and unexpected twists through their NFL journeys. Because of this, the New England Patriots fullback battle could be one of the best training camp battles we've seen in a very long time.
Larsen, a third-year pro, has played his entire NFL career with the Denver Broncos. However, it wasn't until his third season that he became a fullback. Before that, Larsen was actually a reserve linebacker, who was made into a fullback by the Broncos' coaching staff. He has just 11 career starts at the position.
Fiammetta, meanwhile, has the most experience at the fullback position. He's been the lead blocker for the likes of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewert, Felix Jones, and most recently DeMarco Murray. Although he has pretty significant experience as a three-year pro, he's also got a long line of head injuries that could derail him.
Kettani, who's the youngest of the bunch, is actually the most familiar with the Patriots. He was signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2009. He spent his first two seasons on the team's practice squad, but was forced to serve to active military duty last season. Because he's tied up with the military and has actually never played an in a regular season game, this could put him as the odd man out.
Projected Starter/Lock: N/A
This fullback competition is simply too close to call at this point in time. We've only heard accounts from offseason OTA's and mini-camp, and they all say positive things about the fullback-trio.
One could argue that Larson should be the early favorite, taking that he was signed to a two-year contract. He's got the most special teams experience out of the other two, but I'm just not sure Bill Belichick will give him the job just because of that. Whoever wins this battle, in mind, is the one who impresses the coaching staff the most at the position. Taking into consideration how serious this competition is shaping up to be.
Most To Prove/Bubble: Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta
I put just Larsen and Fiammetta here, because the Patriots' coaching staff hasn't gotten to see them perform in their system just yet.
For me, Larsen has to show Belichick and Co. that he can be an effective fullback in the National Football League, while also showcasing his versatility at both linebacker and on special teams. If he's able to do all of those things very well with a two-year deal, I see the job becoming his.
Meanwhile, Fiammetta's road is a little bit more challenging. Even though he's been a far better fullback than Larsen has been, he's got to blow away this coaching staff if they are going to pick a one-sided player here. If he's able to show them that he's clearly the better fullback over the versatile Larsen, the job could end up in his hands.
Most To Learn: Eric Kettani
Seems strange that I'm putting Kettani here, because he actually knows more about the Patriots' system than either of the other players. But his learning will have to deal with physical play, not mental understanding.
The fact that Kettani has been gone from the game for little over a year is one thing, but the fact that he's never played in an actual NFL game is another. From being in the military, he's probably in the best shape of his life, I'm just not sure if he's going to be able to shake off the rust and become the player that Bill Belichick and company thinks he will become.
Locked In Starters:
On The Bubble:
On The Outs/Potential Practice Squad Member: