Some call fullback a dying position, but the Dallas Cowboys are trying to incorporate the position full time this season.
Fullbacks Tyler Clutts, who signed with the Cowboys in December 2013, and rookie J.C. Copeland will be trying to earn a job in training camp, which begins July 22 in Oxnard, Calif.
Clutts, a defensive end at Fresno State, has played in the Canadian Football League, Arena Football League and United Football League. It wasn’t until his stint in the UFL with the Sacramento Mountain Lions when he made the switch to fullback.
“I moved to fullback because I felt it was my natural position, a position that fit my personality and the way the game is suppose to be played,” Clutts said. “I played defensive end in the Canadian League, but I knew if I was going to make it in this league, it would be as a fullback.”
Copeland played at LSU, where he was recruited as a defensive lineman, but moved to fullback during his freshman year. He signed with Dallas in May as an undrafted free agent.
“I was just comfortable. I had a meeting with the coaches, I just felt comfortable here,” Copeland said. “I just want to find my role on this team and help them win.”
Fullback is one of the toughest positions in football. Each team will usually have just one, and by the end of the season, only one fullback will be named to the Pro Bowl for each conference, compared to multiple players for other positions.
“It’s a physical position. You can’t hesitate, a lot of contact. The best fullbacks in the game can accelerate through contact. Defensive ends have the same mentality, you have to be fast and play explosive and aggressive,” Clutts said.
The main purpose for a fullback is to block for the quarterback and running back, which, for the Cowboys, means Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray. Occasionally, a fullback run will be called just to throw the defense off or if it’s a short-yardage situation. The fullback also must be able to catch out of the backfield.
Clutts only had one catch for 4 yards and no rushing attempts in four games last season with the Cowboys after signing Dec. 3.
In 2012, Lawrence Vickers was the full-time fullback, playing in all 16 games while finishing with 11 yards rushing and 104 yards receiving. He was released in July 2013.
Last season, the Cowboys didn’t have a fullback on the roster. Instead, the team carried four tight ends. Tight ends Jason Witten and James Hanna lined up at fullback sometimes in short-yardage situations.
“You go out there and put your body out on the line for your running back, your quarterback and the team. There’s very little glory involved in that position, so you really have to love the game,” Clutts said. “I love the game. I love being out there, being a part of it, love helping others be successful.”
Although not normally the primary rusher, the fullback’s role is vital to any offensive play.
“They all need to be on the same page. They need to be able to communicate verbally and non-verbally. We have a nice one with DeMarco [Murray] and Tyler, they do well together,” running back coach Gary Brown said. “They talk and know what to do when they’re not talking, and that’s a good thing.”
Brown likes what he’s seen in Copeland.
“He’s lost some weight, getting down even before we see him with pads on,” Brown said.
Another key role of the fullback is to help protect the quarterback’s blind side.
“You need a guy that’s tough. Sometimes the line will miss their guy, so he’ll come and clean up the mess. Someone who is smart and savvy. I never played with a fullback until I got to the league,” backup quarterback Brandon Weeden said.
Each player believes they can bring the level of toughness, aggressiveness and passion that owner/general manager Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett are looking for in a fullback.
“It was a great opportunity. I played with coach Brown in Cleveland. We’ve been talking for a couple years and we work really well together. This is the top organization to play for,” Clutts said. “The coach, the owner and the players are all first class. To play with those guys, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“It gave me an opportunity to get on the field,” he said. “Not a lot teams use the fullback, but the Cowboys gave me an opportunity and I just love to play the game.”