With two fullbacks currently free agents and the addition of two more "tight ends" in the draft, the Packers may be going the route of "H-Backs" as opposed to fullbacks this upcoming season.
I had brought up that exact possibility in the aftermath of the draft on Twitter but wanted to examine it a little more in depth here.
The fullback had been going the way of the dinosaur everywhere else in the NFL except Green Bay where they've kept three on their roster in each of the past two seasons.
With both John Kuhn and Korey Hall currently free agents (whether they're restricted or unrestricted will be determined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement), this appears to be an opportunity for the Packers to head in a new direction. Fellow fullback Quinn Johnson is currently under contract, although he doesn't seem to be a lock for a roster spot in 2011 either.
In a recent conversation I had with former Packers fullback and running backs coach Harry Sydney, he had reservations about both Hall and Johnson being back with the team next season.
"Korey Hall, I’d be surprised if he’s back, because of the fact what he’s done on special teams and that he’s got a Super Bowl ring now, they’ve won a Super Bowl," said Sydney. "He might be in demand, because he’s a helluva special teams player. I think he’s going to be a guy they’re going to miss on special teams.
"Quinn Johnson, I’m still waiting for him to explode and be a big physical blocker. He’s a decent blocker, he’s a big guy, but he doesn’t really run anybody out. A lot of it may be the scheme, the zone blocking scheme where he’s running more to the A-hole than really facing head up on a guy. That’s what his role needs to be."
Kuhn looks to be back next season because of his versatility. In addition to fullback, he's a goal-line and short-yardage ball carrier, an emergency halfback, very good in pass protection and has reliable hands.
So instead of a three-headed monster at fullback, the Packers may decide to utilize H-Backs instead.
As opposed to the traditional in-line tight end, an H-Back might best be described as a tight end/fullback hybrid used in a variety of roles such as blocking in the backfield, sent in motion and even split out wide.
It's not an idea foreign to the Packers. Tom Crabtree was frequently used in such a manner last season and to a lesser extent, so were Andrew Quarless and Jermichael Finley, although Finley leans more toward the wide receiver mold.
The addition of two of the newest Packers makes this possibility even more likely. Fifth-round draft choice D.J. Williams of Arkansas and seventh-round draft choice Ryan Taylor of North Carolina are both best described as H-Backs.
When the Packers selected both Williams and Taylor this past April, it caught some observers off guard seeing as the Packers have sufficient depth at tight end with Finley, Quarless and Crabtree. But it starts to make more sense when thinking how they might be utilized.
Williams is an intriguing prospect who had a very good college career and would seem to be a good bet of making the Packers' 53-man roster for risk of losing him.
Taylor isn't quite the sure bet Williams is, as he was drafted perhaps even more as a special teams player. But he'll also be a tough cut if he turns out to be the special teams player the Packers hope he can be given their problems in that phase of the game the past couple seasons.
Is it possible the Packers keep five "tight ends" on their roster this season? That may seem even more outrageous than keeping three fullbacks, but consider that many of them can be used almost interchangeably.
Last year the Packers kept a combined seven fullbacks and tight ends on their roster. That number may stay the same even if a player like Korey Hall or Quinn Johnson isn't a part of the Packers' plans is 2011.