Twenty years ago, the fullback was considered a dying position in the NFL. Yet, there has been a faction of coaches who have kept the position alive, Jon Gruden among them.
Still, it would be inaccurate to say there has been a full-blown fullback revival invoking memories of the golden age of the 1970s NFL. Yet, there are enough teams that use a fullback that it gives hope for a long-term survival of the position.
The below tweet from top NFL analytical mind Warren Sharp offers insight as to why the fullback is so important to some coaches — including Gruden — and why second-year player Alec Ingold is a vital part of the Raiders’ playbook:
I remember this dead simple Shanahan quote on FBs:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) June 8, 2020
“Anytime you have a fullback on the field, it limits what the defense does”https://t.co/5ZzAtbDate
Kyle Shanahan, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is considered one of the brightest, young offensive minds in the NFL. Therefore, it’s important to note that Shanahan marries his old-school roots with today’s game and finds the value to exploit defenses.
Having an athletic fullback — which Ingold showed he is as a rookie in 2019 — helps negate the nickel defense and helps offenses keep things somewhat straight forward.
The 49ers led the NFL with 365 players with the fullback on the field in 2019. The Raiders had the fifth most plays with the fullback at 193, which worked out to be 19.8 percent of their offensive plays.
That’s why Gruden didn’t let go of the fullback when he came back in 2018. It gives the offense some options. Gruden used the fullback often in his first go-around in Oakland and with Tampa Bay.
When he came back to the Raiders and the NFL, after a 10-season layoff, Gruden promised he would stick to old-school roots but also adjust to today’s game. The key for Gruden is his extensive playbook, and his offense is most effective when he is able to use a varied playbook.
That’s why Ingold made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin last year. That’s why Gruden drafted Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III at No. 12 overall this year and added “joker” weapon Lynn Bowden of Kentucky in the third round. That’s why the Raiders have more tight ends than most teams.
It’s all about options in Gruden’s playbook and, like on Shanahan’s offense, the fullback has a role in the never-ending pursuit of exploiting defenses.
It’s no shock that Shanahan and Gruden are both committed to the fullback. They come from the same West Coast offense coaching tree. Gruden is a protégé of Mike Holmgren, who was an assistant coach for Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Shanahan’s father is Mike Shanahan, who also has 49ers’ coaching roots.
In fact, Kyle’s first job in the NFL was as an offensive quality control coach for Gruden in Tamp Bay in 2004-05. As you can see, the fullback love runs deep for both coaches.