Irish head coach Charlie Weis likes the fullback position. The position calls for a punishing blocker, who has enough athletic ability to receive the ball out of the backfield, and to pick up the needed one to two yards in the few opportunities there are for the fullback to actually carry the ball. It seems simple on paper, but it's a very demanding position that not many want to play.
In fact, it's getting much harder for teams to find true fullbacks to recruit. Why? Name the last fullback you saw get drafted higher than the 6th or 7th round by any NFL team. Recruiting prospects have dreams of playing in the NFL, and a kicker probably has a better chance to get drafted than a fullback. A lot of great fullbacks end up being linebackers in college, and thus the problem.
Notre Dame hasn't had much success or production out of the fullback position the past two years. Starter Asaph Schwapp has been injured, and that injury has limited his ability to work out and get in proper shape for the position. Some suggested Schwapp might have started last season well north of the 261 pounds he's listed as weighing on the official ND roster. After seeing him in person last fall, I'd guess they were right and he was closer to 290 than 260.
Schwapp has started since his freshman season for the Irish, and suffered a season-ending knee injury two games into his sophomore season. That same injury limited him last season, and Schwapp ended up with just 14 yards on 12 carries, 3 receptions for 27 yards, and a few critical fumbles along the way.
It needs to be stressed that 6-foot, 261-pound senior was not 100 percent most of the year, and he'll likely be in much better shape this fall. Schwapp is a very hard worker and a quality kid. However, lead blocking wasn't his strong suit last year, and he also struggled at times picking up the blitz. The lack of production could be due to the injury and extra weight, but Schwapp will likely have a short time this fall camp to earn playing time. My guess is all fullbacks will have a limited time to earn playing time this fall. If the players aren't being productive, there's no point in having them on the field.
Last season the Irish struggled mightily in picking up the blitz. Extra protection was needed to give the quarterback a chance to complete passes, but far too often that extra protection, whether it be a fullback or tight end, were not doing the job well enough to give the quarterbacks time.
This past spring Weis moved junior Luke Schmidt to the tight end position after starting his career at fullback. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound junior saw his first action last year as a sophomore, but was unable to unseat Schwapp at fullback despite some of Schwapp's troubles at the position last year. Weis said the move was made because Schmidt plays better closer to the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame was also limited in tight ends for the spring, so it will be interesting to see if Schmidt stays at tight end or fullback this fall. My guess is he'll find his way back to the backfield. The Jasper, Ind. native appears to have good quickness and size for the position, but he was a running back and not a fullback in high school, and the two positions are quite different from each other in required skills sets and what each is asked to do on the field. Schmidt will have two years or eligibility after this season, so he has time to still develop into a quality fullback for the Irish. Pass receiving out of the backfield is likely where he'll be most effective this season.
Sophomore Steve Paskorz also moved to fullback this past spring after starting his career at linebacker as a freshman. Paskorz was a very effective running back in high school, amassing over 4,000 yards on the ground in his high school career, but like Schmidt, he was a running back and not a fullback. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he has an ideal frame for the position, but he'll have a learning curve, just as Schmidt has. How long that might take is anyone's guess.
The Irish need to find a way to get some production out of this 11th man-whether it be a fullback or an extra tight end. Blocking is obviously a big priority for the position, and if the fullbacks want to be on the field, they'll have to impress this fall because the Irish do have a number of talented tight ends who will make a strong case this fall to be the 11th man out there most of the time.
Team Preview: Fullbacks
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