Our continued pre-training camp breakdown of each position for the Cardinals, brings us to the fullback position and even though it may be a dying breed there are still some decent options left in Arizona. So far we've looked at tight ends, wide receivers and running backs but the fullback is a player that gets much less attention or praise. For the most part the traditional fullback is nearing extinction and is being replaced by more versatile players. The Cardinals seem to have a decent option either way they choose to go but teams rarely carry more than one fullback on the 53 man roster so the training camp battle at fullback could be one to keep an eye on.
Terrelle Smith: Smith is the prototypical fullback in that he excels at one thing and one thing only, lowering his head and opening holes for his running back. Only once in his eight year career has he had double digit carries (rookie season) and only twice in his career has he had double digit receptions (2000 & 2005), but he has led the way for six 1,000 yard rushers in his eight year career. At 6'0 250, Smith isn't built to run around or by anyone but he is the guy that you want in front of your tailback when you're trying to get one yard for a crucial first down or touchdown. He turned 30 years old this year so it's worth questioning how much longer he can continue punishing his body, but he has been very durable throughout his career (only missed 5 games in 8 years). Smith's experience gives him a significant edge over Castille considering his eight seasons and over 120 games of NFL experience greatly outnumber Castille's one season on the practice squad.
Tim Castille: In the ever-changing world that is the NFL, the newest fad is replacing a traditional blocking fullback with a more versatile weapon who can attack defenses with more than just his blocking. The coaching staff has praised Castille for bulking up a bit during his season on the practice squad after signing him as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama. Castille started at fullback his first two years at Bama but morphed into their short-yardage specialist his junior and senior seasons. By the end of his collegiate career he had totaled 21 touchdowns on 161 carries and added another 60 receptions. Many compared him to Zack Crockett after his senior season and thought that he could have the same kind of impact in the NFL . Castille's already made some news in mini-camps when he was running with the first team ahead of Smith, but Coach Whisenhunt and Castille himself were quick to point out that mini-camp practice were non-contact drills and that it was too early to make much out of the switch. His age and lower cap value could give him an edge over the older and more expensive Smith, if they're play is similar during camp and the preseason.
Dionte Johnson: Johnson is an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State and is will most likely follow in Castille's footsteps by spending at least one season on the practice squad if the team wants to keep him after camp. His forte is straight ahead run blocking and even though he isn't as big as a traditional fullback (6'0 238), he was the lead blocker for the Buckeyes and was also utilized on special teams as a wedge setter on kickoff returns. Johnson's young, even for a rookie (22), so a year or two of seasoning on the practice squad could be what he needs to make the transition to the professional level. Being that he's a blocking fullback he could also add another 10 to 15 pounds to his frame without hurting his athleticism to much.
The battle for starting fullback isn't one that will garner much attention but it could end up being the only position on the offensive side of the ball that has a new starter on opening day. Terrelle Smith is the best blocker, but if the coaching staff wants a more versatile option they'll likely turn to Castille. Teams rarely carry two fullbacks but the Steelers went through the same predicament last season when they kept Dan Kreider (traditional fullback) and Carey Davis (versatile fullback) on the roster, so it could happen. The idea of a goal line package with Smith leading the way for Castille is awful tempting, but we'll just have to wait and see. Either way, don't forget about the fullback when your watching the preseason, the coaching staff certainly isn't. Anyone care to make any predictions? Would you rather have a 'traditional fullback' or a more versatile option?