During his collegiate career at Temple, Evan Rodriguez played H-back, a hybrid fullback/tight end position. Former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice was looking for an H-back in last year's draft and the club grabbed Rodriguez in the fourth round.
Throughout rookie minicamp and OTAs, Rodriguez practiced with the tight ends. Yet shortly after the start of training camp, he began practicing with the running backs, and changed his number from 88 to 48.
"Evan we moved and put a 40 number on because we felt like he could play on the line of scrimmage and play in the backfield," Tice said at the time.
Tice obviously saw Rodriguez as more of a lead blocker, one that could serve as the club's de facto fullback. In that area, Tice's evaluation of E-Rod was spot on. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Rodriguez graded as the 12th best run-blocking fullback in the league last season.
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Overall though, he was used sparingly and almost never as a pass catcher. In 12 games last year, he played just 217 snaps and caught only four passes for 21 yards. Ignoring Rodriguez in the passing game was particularly confusing because he showed very soft hands during the preseason. He doesn't have the body type (6-2, 239) to dominate down the seams but his athleticism makes him a mismatch with linebackers on underneath routes.
Going forward, it remains to be seen how new head coach Marc Trestman will use Rodriguez, who is versatile enough to fill a number of different roles. If Trestman is creative, he can fully utilize a player that can be a weapon on multiple levels.
How he is used will be up to Rodriguez. Zack Crockett was Trestman's fullback during his three years (2001-2003) as offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. During that time, Crockett caught nine total passes, or three per season, which is one less than what E-Rod caught last season.
Yet Crockett's lack of receiving numbers was more likely due to his inability to catch the ball than Trestman's system. In 2008, with Trestman in charge of the Arizona Cardinals' offense, Larry Centers caught 69 passes for 559 yards. This demonstrates Trestman's ability to mold his offense to the strengths of his players.
All this leads one to believe that, if Rodriguez proves he can catch the ball out of the backfield, Trestman will use him regularly as a receiver. Matched up on slower linebackers, Rodriguez can dominate on the short and intermediate zones. In what most expect will be a pass-first system, that type of role player will be very valuable.
The next step for E-Rod is to improve his pass blocking. He was asked to pass block 19 times last year and allowed three quarterback hurries. If he wants to be on the field during passing downs, the team has to be able to trust that he can help pick up a blitz, otherwise his great hands won't mean a thing.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.