22 Starters in 22 Days: Fullback

Leading up to training camp, JC will preview all 22 starters for the Chicago Bears on both sides of the ball – strengths, weaknesses and whatever lies in between. Today, we look at fullback.

Projected starter: Will Ta'ufo'ou
An undrafted free agent out of California, Ta'ufo'ou signed with the Bears following the 2009 NFL Draft and spent the balance of his rookie campaign on the practice squad. Not much was thought about the 5-11, 247-pounder being inked to a futures contract shortly after the season drew to a close, but once long-time starter Jason McKie was released Mar. 16, suddenly Ta'ufo'ou's prospects in the Windy City looked brighter. During his college career in Berkeley, he opened holes for three different 1,000-yard rushers over the course of his four years: current Bill Marshawn Lynch (2005-06), current Seahawk Justin Forsett (2007) and current Lion Jahvid Best (2008).

Projected backup: Eddie Williams
The Bears prepared for their release of McKie by signing Williams, a seventh-round choice of the Redskins just last year, a week earlier. Like Ta'ufo'ou, Williams was a practice squader in Washington but actually did get called up to the 53-man roster in November, although he broke his leg in practice a few weeks later and ended up on injured reserve. Still new to the fullback position, Williams enjoyed the majority of his success at Idaho as a tight end.

2009 Review
While he had been given some carries here and there in short-yardage and goal-line situations previously in his Bears tenure, McKie didn't get one rushing attempt last season. A reliable safety valve out of the backfield, albeit not a very productive one, the five passes McKie caught this past year represent his lowest total since 2005, when he only suited up for eight games. Never a punishing lead blocker, he deserves at least some of the blame for Chicago having one of the worst ground attacks in football, averaging just 93.3 yards per contest (29th in the league).

2010 Preview
There is a new offensive coordinator in town, as the more aggressive Mike Martz has taken over for the more conservative Ron Turner, so it remains to be seen how the fullback position will be utilized in 2010. But because Martz traditionally employs as many three- and four-receiver sets as any play caller in the business, don't expect Ta'ufo'ou to be on the field more than 10-15 snaps per game. Not to mention the fact that blocking-specialist tight end Brandon Manumaleuna can line up in the backfield, maybe even on passing plays so he can be Jay Cutler's personal protector.

FB Will Ta'ufo'ou
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

I'd much rather have ...
... Lousaka Polite in Miami. The Bears actually had Polite on their active roster in 2007, but he was nothing more than a backup to McKie and only got into five games, accumulating no offensive stats along the way. But now that he's with the Dolphins, Polite is regarded as a top lead blocker and has helped Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams become one of the most effective one-two punches in the league. It has been said that the Bears don't do a very good job of scouting themselves, as Polite being a success elsewhere suggests.

But he's better than ...
Jason Snelling in Atlanta. OK, while it's ludicrous to say Ta'ufo'ou is a better pro than Snelling, especially with Snelling becoming relevant in fantasy down the stretch last year after an injury to tailback Michael Turner, the fact of the matter is that the Bears need a classic lead blocker. What they don't need is one of these hybrid types, like Snelling or Leonard Weaver in Philadelphia. They're both great players, but Chicago is hoping Ta'ufo'ou develops into a true road grader in front of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor – there is only one football, after all.

Confidence-o-Meter: 3.6 *
Neither Ta'ufo'ou nor Williams has played one game in the NFL, so there will be zero experience at the position no matter who ultimately wins the job. Nevertheless, with Manumaleuna, Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark all having the ability to line up in the backfield every now and then for matchup purposes, being green at fullback isn't a recipe for disaster. Does anybody remember who Martz put in front of Marshall Faulk back when he was a perennial All-Pro for the Rams?

* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in fullbacks. 10.0 is Lorenzo Neal in 2006, when LaDainian Tomlinson set the all-time record with 31 touchdowns.

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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