Merritt Hall recently called an end to his football playing career due to repeated head trauma. Considering the nature of the fullback position in football, this is probably not a surprise occurrence. But looking at that position, for multiple issues rarely including health, just how often should Georgia use a lead blocker out of the backfield going forward?
Georgia under Mark Richt has always, which has always also included offensive coordinator Mike Bobo on staff either in his current role or as QB coach, used a "pro-style" offense as the media is want to call it. Now, "pro style" evolves just like the game itself, but typically that is used to mean an offense where more often than not the QB lines up under center, two backs behind them with a TE on the line and two WRs split out. Of those two backs behind the QB, one gets to touch the ball a lot while the other not so much. This changes a bit over time, but aside from Verron Haynes (although most of his work aside from a signature play, was later in the season when injuries forced him into action at tailback) and a big 2006 out of Brannan Southerland, the fullback under Mark Richt has been almost exclusively a blocker.
As the "pro style" offense evolves though, the utility of a pure blocker has less value. Defenses are faster, but still big and strong, able to key on a fullback and close down on the ball carrier in swarms. They rarely demand respect as a threat with the ball in their hands, and even then are usually reduced to a short gain up the middle on a run or a dump off pass when a QB panics under pressure. And because of that lack of danger down the field, professional offenses began to use another TE or another WR instead of a second back. Mike Bobo also followed that trend, as he stated repeatedly during this off season that Georgia used 1 or fewer RBs on the field at least 70% of the time last fall. But the lack of versatility or verticality of a FB in an offensive scheme may just be part of the problem with the position. We can debate the merits of having a traditional FB in a program. But in short yardage situations, they are still an extremely valuable piece to have around.
Let's make no mistake about it, the playing field for football these days is becoming ripe for lawsuits. The biggest ones seem to involve head trauma. And with a reduced value in their productivity in schemes, fullback may just be more trouble than it's worth going forward. Particularly those as Bobo unfortunately referred to them a short time ago, "hammerheard".
Football is a collision sport. And few positions are in as violent collisions as often as your traditional fullback in a pro style offense. Yeah, big uglies bang their heads against each other multiple times every play along the lines. But those hits are often done with little more than a single step to build speed and momentum as large men slam themselves face first into other large men. Fullback on the other hand, tend to get a nice running start at the person who also gets a nice running start at them, before slamming their faces into each other. And they do that again, and again, and again. Play after play after play in practice and in games, propelling their body as fast as they can make it go, using the shoulders and heads to clear room for a man with the ball behind them. Considering the job requirement, it's nice that it took Merritt Hall this long to finally have to call it quits. I can't imagine what the pictures would be of brains that kept banging against a wall for another 10-15+ years like with the above pictured Mack Strong, or the modern standard beared for the job, Lorenzo Neal.
So while you'll always need a traditional, smash mouth lead blocker in football, I believe we are beginning to see Bobo and others phase this position out of the game for a wide, wide variety of reasons mostly on the field but possibly off the field also. I predict we'll see more moves like Quayvon Hicks going forward, and less like Detric Bing-Dukes. What do you think? Should Georgia reduce the amount of plays they utilize a FB going forward?