Question: Who starts at fullback for the Browns?
Answer: Kevin McLeod
Question: Should you know him?
The Browns treat their fullback like car-makers treat crash-test dummies.
It's a thankless job.
"You've gotta be one tough S.O.B to play fullback in this offense," offered Kevin McLeod, the Browns starting fullback.
The risk-reward ratio is lopsided. As a matter of fact, based on the role a Browns fullback plays in coordinator Bruce Arians' offense, you could make an argument that there is no reward.
"The main objective," says McLeod, "is to dig a linebacker out of the hole." In other words, the fullback position, in the Browns offense, is very much one-dimensional. They block. That's pretty much it.
Guys like McLeod have to care little about glory and a lot about guts. "The blows we give and take" says the 250-pound McLeod, "it's hard, man. It's really hard on the body. It takes years of building up the inner strength and power."
Aaron Shea has had his turn at fullback for the Browns. When told that McLeod said he often comes back to the huddle dazed and confused after laying out a block or taking on a linebacker, Shea laughed and said, "I'm trying to move out of that state of mind."
Shea is 6'-4" and if he was never asked to play fullback again, he probably wouldn't shed a tear. He's built like a tight end, not a fullback. "I think," says Shea, "the biggest problem I have is leverage. Getting low on a guy who's 5'-11" is tough. I'm trying to get better though."
The Browns play Shea at the H-back spot. On occasion, you'll see McLeod there too. It's a hybrid position that blends the fullback and the tight end.
Confused? Well, the breakdown of the position(s) is far from black and white. The Browns say the fullback is mainly a blocker but they may also line up behind the tight end. When they do, their job is to go out and block a defensive back. The H-back can also line up next to the tight end and off the ball. Or, line-up in the "I" formation and look like a fullback. Or, line-up in the slot and look like a wide receiver. The H-back is more apt to catch a pass than the fullback, though.
"One thing I take pride in," says Shea, "one thing the coaches like in me is my versatility." "I'm an athlete," says McLeod. "I've got the size and strength to play fullback in this offense and I've got the quickness to play the H-back."
In three preseason games, Browns fullbacks have yet to carry the football. If you add Shea's receiving stats, the fullback/H-back position has caught 6 balls for 39 yards.
Two fullbacks that opened training camp in a battle for the starting spot, R.J. Bowers and Ben Miller, are now on the injured list. The Browns brought McLeod in to pick up the pieces. Could he be the Browns starter at fullback when they open the regular season?
"That would be a dream come true," said McLeod, who's been waived six times by five NFL teams in five years.
Based on that resume, maybe McLeod has the perfect background to be the Browns guy. After all, it sounds like they need somebody who doesn't mind being cast aside.