Running on Plenty

A few nicks and cuts dot Cory Jackson's forehead and chin, and he points to where his face has been stitched up. He's certain he'll go through at least a couple facemasks this season and probably more chin straps since the fabric often tears. A concussion at some point wouldn't be a surprise.

So it would seem these first two days of practice without pads are a reprieve for the fullback. Just run up to the defender, put the hands on the chest, and chop the feet. Go to the end of the line and do it again. No hitting, no helmet repairs, a nice easy introduction to fall camp.

Jackson can't wait for it to be over.

"It's really hard for us during these light shell practices," he said said. "You really have to hold back."

A fullback's job is to gain a head of steam, try to knock out a linebacker and pave the way for the running back with no regard for the body. The pads can't come on soon enough.

"You have to be prepared to get your head knocked around," Jackson said.

While the fullback position in its truest form is a dying breed, at Maryland it's still very much an important cog in the offense. This coming season, it might even take on an expanded role in the new West Coast look.

With two capable fullbacks in Jackson, a junior, and sophomore Haroon Brown, a few more options open up. They can both carry the ball for short yardage—each had more than 900 rushing yards his senior season in high school—and they both have decent pass-catching ability. Though most of the offense hasn't been installed yet, there are plans to get them carries in goal line packages and send them out for pass patterns mostly on play action plays. There's even formations that calls for two fullbacks.

"I came in thinking that fullback's about to be extinct in this offense," Brown said. "But since [offensive coordinator James Franklin's] been working with us I realize that we can be more versatile, we can help more in the blocking, and also be good in the receiving game. We can be used in a lot of different ways."

Franklin has said he wants to adapt his offense to the personnel available. Jackson believes the depth at fullback allows Franklin to keep them in more formations.

"If it's just you and no one behind you sometimes they might lean towards putting more wide receivers in because they're deep there," he said.

It's a position of luxury for Maryland now thanks to simply having the position available when Jackson and Brown were recruited. Few schools have needs for true fullbacks as the spread offense has become popularized, so the duo's recruitment was slow.

Jackson always checked ‘linebacker' on the recruiting questionnaires so more schools would take notice. Many schools saw Brown as a last resort if they had scholarships left over. Maryland swooped on signing day and assured him he would be a fullback.

"It was hard," Jackson said. "A lot of teams don't commit to just saying you're going to be a fullback. A lot of times they like to leave that option open that you might go to defense."

Recruiting fullbacks is hard, too. Many high school players who say they play fullback are really tailbacks with little blocking experience. Even though both Jackson and Brown were integral parts of their high school running games, both could block and both fit the physical make-up.

"Most guys want to run the ball and most guys who said they played fullback in high school it's got a little different meaning," said running backs coach John Donovan. "It may be five yards but they're getting the ball every carry. They aren't blocking most of the time like our guys do."

It's also a position that is prone to injuries. Jackson took over his freshman year for Tim Cesa, who suffered a series of concussions and ultimately had to quit football in part because of them. That risk, naturally, doesn't sit well with recruits either, so it takes a special breed of player to want to throw himself at linebackers every play.

"It takes a lot of beating so to have a couple of them they won't get beat up as much," coach Ralph Friedgen said.

While the fullbacks might get more touches this season, they'll still be doing plenty of the dirty work, and they hardly mind.

"Hey, clear it out for the backs, man," Brown said. "Of course we don't get all the glory like running backs do on TV or carry all the touchdowns, but all our tailbacks, they make it known that without us they can't get their job done."

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