Roster Preview: Fullback
I know fullback isn’t the most exciting position in football, and since the Texans have had three different starting fullbacks over the last two years it doesn’t seem to matter much in this offense. However, while the Texans have made a decided switch from the headhunting style of fullbacks such as Vonta Leach and Lawrence Vickers to a more finesse, receiving style fullback in James Casey it only makes sense to continue the roster breakdown segment here.
Depth Chart: Starter
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 100%
James Casey was drafted out of Rice three years ago and has been used much as Gary Kubiak intended: as a human Swiss Army Knife. Casey was originally slated to play tight end and some wildcat, but as many Texans fans know; our offense is fairly boring to watch and doesn’t tend to break out many trick plays so he was buried in the depth chart behind Owen Daniels and Joel Dressen. Due to injury Casey saw some playing time and was seen instantly as a creator of mismatches wherever he was, leading Kubiak to try to use him as the team’s fullback last season. Unfortunately he was injured early on and Lawrence Vickers never gave the job back except in certain situations. Casey is a great receiver and on the play action bootlegs that Kubiak is so fond of he is often open on the checkdown flat routes leading to huge gains after the catch.
Any time you put a converted tight end at fullback you sacrifice what a fullback is meant to do: block. In an offense that strives for balance in a pass heavy league a blocking fullback is something that would give the running game a little something more and open a few more holes for Foster and Tate. Vonta Leach a few years ago opened holes that you could have driven a truck through and Vickers did much the same last year and the running game was much improved because of it. Unfortunately, in a year that the Texans lost their right half of the offensive line, they also made the switch to an unconventional style of fullback as well.
That being said, unconventional doesn’t necessarily mean bad. While Casey isn’t known for his blocking he is very versatile and smart and in the zone-blocking scheme, power blocking isn’t necessarily valued over finesse, something Casey is quite good at. Also, the Texans pass primarily out of bootlegs and while they occasionally look for receivers deep down the field, Schaub often looks for Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels or Joel Dressen last year on short completions with opportunities for big runs after the catch. Finally, the Texans tend to run wheel routes with their backs when the defense is showing man coverage and if you play a linebacker one on one with Casey streaking down the sideline it will be a no-brainer for the quarterback to find him.
Depth Chart: Backup
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 80%
Moran Norris is a guy that Texans fans should recognize, as this is his second stint with the team. Norris is a similar style fullback to what the Texans have had previously in Vickers and Leach and will likely make the roster as James Casey plays other positions as well. Norris isn’t exciting to watch. He doesn’t get many carries and often times doesn’t get targeted on play actions. He isn’t a guy that should have the ball in his hands, but he can certainly open holes for the guys that should.
While Casey brings versatility and excitement Norris is essentially an additional offensive lineman anytime he’s on the field. While he’s good at what he does, he allows defenses to essentially leave him uncovered and either bring someone on a blitz or bracket a receiver with a corner and a safety.
There’s nothing wrong with being a good blocker, however, and he should not only help the Texans in the running game, but in the passing games as an additional player to pick up the blitz. Norris is someone that the Texans can count on game in and game out to be a consistent, albeit boring, blocking fullback and thus he will more than likely find himself holding a roster spot.
Depth Chart: Third String
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 20%
Smith has an interesting story as he entered the NFL not even on the offensive side of the ball, but as a linebacker. Kubiak made the switch this offseason as the Texans found themselves short on depth at the fullback position and Smith has excelled at learning the playbook and as a linebacker tends to understand which gaps to fill that he himself would normally have attempted to crash. He is an exciting story line because at this point in his career he is pure potential and could eventually translate to a good fullback in this league.
Unfortunately for Smith he is unpolished and if the Texans keep two fullbacks on the roster I don’t foresee them keeping another guy whose blocking abilities aren’t what fullbacks are known for and going more towards a guy like Norris. Smith could have all the upside in the world but potential can only get you so far and as a team that is looking to make a deep playoff push this year the Texans need players that can help them win now. In such a pass heavy league it’s odd to see a team keep two fullbacks and virtually unheard of for a team to keep three and for that reason I don’t like Smith’s chance of making the team.
The Texans fullback situation is probably one of their weakest positions as a team and for that reason I grade them at a C-. If James Casey can prove that being an unconventional fullback can work in this league then that grade is obviously subject to change. Also if Moran Norris steps up and splits time with Casey as more of the headhunting, bulldozing style fulback Texans fans have become accustomed to the grade could also rise but going into the season fullback is definitely an area of concern.