With the offseason workout program now a thing of the past and the official start to training camp coming up on July 21st (report date and physicals), it's time to look ahead to each positional battle and how they will ultimately shape the New York Giants' final 53-man roster. Today we examine the fullbacks.
WEST COAST IMPACT
Shortly after Kevin Gilbride retired and the New York Giants were without an offensive coordinator, both Henry Hynoski and John Conner were sweating it out, uncertain if they'd even have jobs once a new coordinator was hired. After all, the traditional fullback is a dying breed in the NFL and there are already some teams who don't use one at all. But once the Giants hired Ben McAdoo, who had previously coaches quarterbacks in Green Bay, each knew they had a unique opportunity ahead of them.
"A lot of coordinators don’t even use a fullback so I was sweating it out there for a little bit just waiting to see who we hired. When I heard we hired Coach McAdoo, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good.’ Fullbacks are good, the way they utilize Kuhn out in Green Bay," Hynoski said. "It’s been exciting so far, I really like what he brought to the table with the offense."
Although Green Bay utilized John Kuhn in a variety of unique ways, it doesn't necessarily mean whoever wins the fullback job in New York will see significant playing time. Throughout the offseason workout program, including Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mini-camp, the Giants were running a lot of single-back sets — of course, those drills were non-contact and may not offer a fair representation of what's to come. However, what's already known is that when the fullback is on the field, they're going to be expected to be multidimensional.
"I know we’re not going to have the traditional fullback like what we had a year ago, but I think it’s always a nice thing to have a place for a fullback in your offensive game plan," running backs coach Craig Johnson said. "They have done a good job. We’re going to ask them to probably be a little bit more multidimensional, be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, maybe even be able to run the ball at times, and also be able to be a lead blocker."
The one luxury the Giants have with both Conner and Hynoski is that they're each quite capable of being multidimensional in a West Coast-style offense, and neither are strangers to carrying the ball or being more heavily relied upon in the passing game.
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While their career numbers may be very limited, the samples yield impressive and encouraging results. They also offer a little insight into something unexpected: the spectacular athleticism of John Conner, whom many believe is the better traditional fullback, but not quite as athletic as Hynoski.
Although Hynoski set a Pennsylvania State High School record with 7,165 career rushing yards, most of the numbers seem to favor Conner. For example, not only did Pro Football Focus rank Conner as the No. 4 overall fullback in 2013, but noted that 51.1% of his career rushing yards came after first contact and that he had a nearly 40% breakaway rate to Hynoski's 0%. And in going back to their rookie years, Conner was actually clocked as the faster of the two, with his slowest 40-yard dash time coming in at 4.76, while Hynoski's fastest 40-yard dash time was clocked at 4.87.
From a traditional fullback perspective, both have graded out favorably throughout their professional careers, with Conner earning an overall grade of 9.0 in 2013 and Hynoski having earned an overall grade of 5.7 in 2012. Each also earned an overall blocking grade of 6.0 or higher in their last full season (2013 for Conner, 2012 for Hynoski).
ONLY ONE CAN SURVIVE
The good news for the Giants is that they have two very good fullbacks who can effectively contribute in a multitude of different ways. Unfortunately, they are not in a position to carry two fullbacks on their 53-man roster and it will mean that at least one of them is destined for the chopping block. Ultimately — and this is stating the obvious — it's going to boil down to whoever can grasp the new system the quickest and whoever can excel in multiple areas.
“Being a fullback is being a fullback. The first thing you have to do is lead block, number one. Then you have to catch passes and the third thing you have to do is run the ball,” Hynoski said. “Here you might be asked to do all three things more than we’ve been asked to do in the past. It was mainly lead blocking in the past but now it’s going to be more towards that even distribution. There is certainly going to be opportunities for the fullback to get the ball, but we can’t forget the number one thing is to lead block, especially isos, outside zones, lead plays, that type of thing…now a lot of what we’re working on is a fast-paced type of deal. You see that every day in practice, it’s kind of like a no-huddle that we start out with. That’s kind of the emphasis right now. It’s really high energy, everything we do, we want to be quick in and out of the huddle, get up and run the play, come back and do it again. There’s not a lot of wasted time, not a lot of wasted movement. It’s a very high energy, intense type of offense.”
Of course, the one outside variable that could impact the fullback battle is health. After all, what good is having a man on the 53-man roster if he's unable to play on Sunday? And in that regard, there could be a legitimate cause for concern over Hynoski. While Conner has missed only three games in his NFL career, Hynoski has dealt with a variety of injuries, causing him to miss 18 career games, including the 13 he missed a season ago.
Finally, there are two alternative options the Giants have, however unlikely they may be. The first would be the team scrapping the fullback position entirely and releasing both Conner and Hynoski. That seems to be the least likely given that they've hung onto both throughout the offseason workout program. If they had any intentions on going without a fullback, they likely would have parted ways with both already.
The other potential option is that the Giants do go with a single fullback, but it's neither Conner nor Hynoski. Rather, the team could opt to go with running back Peyton Hillis, who played the position both in college and early on in his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And however unlikely that seems, it's not a scenario that should be entirely dismissed … although we don't believe it will be the outcome. But, as Jerry Reese would say, "never say never."
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