Why the fullback could be making a comeback for the Green Bay Packers
INDIANAPOLIS – National media members entering Hall K of the Indianapolis Convention Center at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday did a double-take when looking over at the interview tables set up for the running backs participating in the NFL scouting combine.
The league typically puts the most popular players up on a lectern for television purposes, but there was one table pushed up against the back wall that was encircled by cameras and media.
People late to the party wandered over, craned their necks to see the name placard or flipped through the interview sheet to see who “RB12” could be.
It was University of Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold, the only man at his position invited to the event.
“It’s a blessing, I feel like,” the Green Bay native said.
Ingold measured in at 6 feet even and 242 pounds and said he had already spoken to each team in the league – even though only a handful employed a fullback on their 2018 rosters.
“Just diversification of offense,” Ingold said of what he can bring a team in 2019. “Fullback is kind of dying off a little bit, but the ones that are sticking around are making an impact on their team so I feel like being able to influence a game with a few amount of reps is really what I’m trying to do. That’s what I did my whole career at Wisconsin, so just carrying that all the way through to the NFL.”
He’s not wrong, either.
Ingold definitely noticed how the New England Patriots deployed fullback James Develin in the Super Bowl to not only loosen up the Los Angeles Rams' defense and create mismatches, but how they relied on him to block defensive tackles.
And new Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, who was the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017, noted how the lack of a fullback in the Rams' offense maybe hindered their attack against the Patriots.
“We were in ‘11 personnel,’ it was about finding our best 11 and putting those guys on the field,” LaFleur recalled of the roster decisions the Rams have made the last three seasons with no fullback. “But certainly if you have one, it can definitely give you an advantage on offense. Depending on how, like, a defense is playing you. Going back to the Super Bowl, New England was not going to allow the Rams to run their outside zone to the weak side. It was not going to happen the way they were structurally. That’s where you could have used a fullback to get some of those strong-side pull-flow runs and what not.”
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In 2018 under Mike McCarthy, the Packers began the season without a fullback on the opening 53-man roster. The last time the Packers didn’t have a fullback up for a game was 2014, let alone not even an option. By the end of the season, however, Danny Vitale was added to the active roster and Malcolm Johnson was signed to the practice squad, indicating some flexibility in bringing the position back.
While those moves were made before LaFleur was hired, he’s a fan of the position. He didn’t have a true fullback in Tennessee last year, but he did move tight end Luke Stocker into that kind of a role.
“To Matt’s point, I think if you can have one you’d always like to have one because it allows you to do things that you can’t do if you don’t one,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “He’s got to be good enough. I think Dan has a chance. We also picked up Malcolm Johnson along the way, too, who I’m excited about. We have a couple guys that I think are maybe a little more athletic than we’ve had in the past and obviously watching kind of what Matt wants to do, I think they’ll have an opportunity to do that. Whether that ends up being a fourth or fifth tight end or a fullback, I think it’s truly going to be the better player.”
Heading into April’s draft, Ingold is trying to show teams that he can be that difference maker. And he’s going to rely mostly on the tape he put together with the Badgers. He caught just 14 passes for 185 yards and four touchdowns in his four years and he also didn’t run much, rushing for 343 yards on 103 carries.
He was a more than reliable red-zone threat on the ground, however, with 17 career rushing touchdowns.
“Almost every team has told me they’re going to watch the tape more so than what I’m going to do here,” Ingold said. “Mostly because all the drills are different. I really don’t have a specific fullback workout that I can do. So being able to show them how I move athletically hopefully in shorts and T-shirt, they’ll like that. And then I put on some good tape this year, I think. Having them go back and watch it will be good.”
Ingold acknowledged that the NFL is cyclical, and it seems to be spinning back toward the position – but in a different way than the block-first type of fullbacks of yesteryear.
“We'll always use a fullback,” San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I personally will. It gives you too much of an advantage. With Kyle (Juszczyk) we use it more than usual just because of our personnel. Just a fullback in general, it allows us to dictate things to the defense. You can begin in certain personnel groupings that are impossible to run against if you don't have a fullback. If you have a fullback, they know you can run it anytime, which simplifies a little what the defense is doing. Also if you can move the fullback to different positions to where he's not playing fullback, that gives us an advantage."