Ronnie Cruz Is Ready For Primetime

What a year it's been for Kansas City Chiefs' fullback Ronnie Cruz.

Last season he came to training camp as a running back prospect out of tiny Division II Northern State in North Dakota. When fullback Robert Holcombe went down with a season-ending injury, he got converted to fullback and had to learn a new position. Luckily he had Tony Richardson, one of the finest fullbacks in the last 20 years, as a mentor.

Richardson signed with the Minnesota Vikings this off-season. Cruz will likely be the starting fullback once the season starts in September. Cruz is responsible for blocking for the NFL's hottest running back in Larry Johnson and will be a vital cog in one of the league's most prolific offenses.

The pressure is on. But Cruz is ready.

"The only thing Herm said when we found out T-Rich was going to Minnesota," said Cruz, "was there's a lot of opportunity there and don't be scared of nothing. It's too late to be scared now, that's exactly what he told me."

Richardson is gone. There was something of an uproar when he signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

"Of course that is the main topic," Cruz said, "with such a great player leaving the Kansas City Chiefs. I'm just happy to have the opportunity, I'm trying to take advantage one step at a time and not overlook this whole situation. I'm taking it day-to-day and trying to get better. I've been studying film, trying to watch what T-Rich did, seeing what he was good at as far as run blocking and pass protection. I've been spending a lot of extra time with Coach Saxon, watching film, learning my protections, so if they have to call on me to be that third down back or whatever, I'll be able to handle that. I continue to work on my hands, catching the ball."

The Chiefs have been blessed over the last decade-and-a-half with great fullback play. Players like Kimble Anders and Richardson have been the gold standard for NFL fullbacks, and now it's Cruz's turn. He fits the profile of Anders and Richardson with his ability to run the ball, catch the ball and of course, block.

"Here, it's basically a big running back that they convert to fullback," said Cruz. "T-Rich at one time was a running back/full back. The guy here before me, Omar Easy, was a running back at Penn State, and then they converted him to fullback. It's the same thing with me. You have to be able to run routes, catch the ball, and try to make something happen afterwards. Your role as a fullback here is more than just an isolation, head up type fullback."

Chiefs' quarterback Trent Green has a vested interest in the play of the young fullback. Cruz will be heavily involved as a pass protector and as a weapon in the passing game.

"When he's had the limited opportunities that he has had," said Green, "he's handled it well. He's handled the pressure well. You can always tell from my standpoint when you're in the huddle, and you look at guy's eyes calling out the play. Do they look confused? Do they have that deer in headlights look? He's never had that."

Green said that Cruz's comfort and confidence were signs of solid preparation. A lesser player would react differently to the pressure of an NFL huddle.

"You have a guy who looks like that, usually it's because they're not quite sure," said Green. "Oh what's that shift, what's that movement? Which hole am I supposed to hit? What's my assignment? Uh, oh, the line just made a call, what am I supposed to do? He's never had that look on his face, so I think he'll be ready for it."

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