Position Battle: New Name at Fullback

The job is dirty, physical and the plays called specifically for those men who strap up between the quarterback and running back usually amount to little more than three yards (if that) and a cloud of dust. And that's when they're not flattening defenders or providing extra protection in the pocket on third-and-longs.

EAST LANSING — Fullback is perhaps the most unheralded position on the football field.

The job is dirty, physical and the plays called specifically for those men who strap up between the quarterback and running back usually amount to little more than three yards (if that) and a cloud of dust.

And that's on the rare occasion when they're not assigned to chip a defensive end, flatten a linebacker or run over a safety, not to mention securing the pocket for extra pass protection on third-and-long.

But in Michigan State's pro-style offense, fullbacks are a valuable commodity. While each pro-style offense is uniquely constructed depending on available personnel and coordinator prerogative, one common characteristic revolves around the running game's north-south tendencies.

While the option, spread and some west coast offenses like to attack horizontally first, a scheme like Michigan State's emphasizes vertical pressure. And really, who runs downhill better, whether it's to secure an important third down or clear the path for Javon Ringer, than a fullback?

Jeff McPherson (Sr.) and Andrew Hawken (Jr.) are the top two bruisers for the Spartans. Converted linebackers both, they give MSU an abundance of leadership and experience at fullback. Plus, they add an important dimension to the passing game as backfield change-of-pace receivers who hit the flats or patiently setup screens.

McPherson (6-foot-1, 240-pounds) and Hawken (6-2, 238) both appeared in 13 games last season. Hawken was the more productive with 149 all-purpose yards (2 rushing, 81 receiving and 66 returning kickoffs) compared to McPherson's total of 43 receiving yards.

The pair provide the Spartans with veterans who have been through the grind of a Big Ten season and McPherson, a former walk-on, is an inspiration to the team with the hard work he put in to land a scholarship.

"Both those guys are having a very excellent camp," running backs coach Dan Enos said yesterday at the start of the second week of preseason practice.

But they have company in Josh Rouse (Jr., 6-3, 235), another converted linebacker.

"Josh Rouse has been a very pleasant surprise," Enos said. "We moved him over last spring with about a week to go, but he's made great strides. He's getting a lot better and he'll play as well."

Enos said Rouse's transition has been nearly seamless: "He's done exceptional. He's a guy who catches the ball much better than we all anticipated he would. Last spring he did a good job, but you can really tell he's worked on it this summer."

Walk-ons Adam Setterbro (r-Fr.) and Nick Bendzuck (So. junior college transfer) also give the position plenty of depth, with athletic freshman Drew Stevens (LB/FB) possibly in the mix as well.

If all goes according to plan with Ringer running like an All-American and the receiving corps providing Brian Hoyer with plenty of targets, the fullbacks' names will be a rare echo out of the public address announcer at Spartan Stadium.

That might not be fair, considering the work these men put in, but it likely means good things for the team. And these guys wouldn't have it any other way.


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