Preseason Spotlight: The Battle at Fullback

The pre-camp favorite, rookie fifth-round pick Quinn Johnson, remains well behind veterans Korey Hall and John Kuhn. Why does Hall look improved? Why has Johnson struggled? We have the answers after conversations with the players and coaches.

When the Packers drafted Quinn Johnson in the fifth round of April's draft, it was assumed the powerful fullback from LSU would walk onto the team, win the starting job and force either Korey Hall or John Kuhn to the unemployment line.

However, after two weeks of training camp and heading into tonight's preseason opener against Cleveland, Hall and Kuhn remain well ahead of Johnson.

"It's time to play a game," coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday. "Our whole football team needs to play a game, even more so at the fullback position. That's something that we're going to have to take a close look at. Special teams will definitely factor into that. The games will be the biggest evaluation for that group and pretty much the whole team."

Fullback was deemed a position that required an upgrade, especially with McCarthy desiring a more physical offense. That's where Johnson was supposed to fit in. The 255-pounder produced 72 pancake blocks during his senior season, but he's been a step slow for most of training camp.

Meanwhile, Hall, a third-year player with 15 starts under his belt, and Kuhn, a fourth-year player who's started four games but played in all 32 during his first two years with the Packers, have been steady and reliable.

Hall was listed at 236 pounds last year but said he played at about 230. That's a lightweight at such a powerful and violent position. He reshaped his body during the offseason, though, and hopes to play this season at about 235 or 240 pounds.

"I felt like it was a way for me to try to improve my a game a little bit," Hall said. "Every offseason you want to find a way to get better. Between conversations I've had between myself and some of the coaches, I think they want me to gain a couple of pounds. I've been working on that. It's kind of hard for me to put on good weight."

From a dietary standpoint, Hall is living the dream.

"Steak and potatoes, man!" In addition, he's eating more meals per day and eating before going to bed.

"It's kind of a struggle for me, especially late in the season, keeping on weight," Hall said. "I think this is one of the most critical times. Last year I lost a bunch of weight in camp. This year, I've been able to keep it on. It'll be nice if I can keep that going this year."

Not only should the extra weight and muscle give Hall some extra oomph on his blocks, but he hopes it will help keep him healthy. In two seasons, he's missed seven games, including five last season.

"I think it will help me from an endurance standpoint," he said. "Throughout the season, like last year, I got banged up a couple times. Hopefully, if I can get a little more mass on me, hopefully that will help with some of the injury situations."

While Johnson was deemed the favorite to win the starting job and Kuhn is listed atop the official depth chart, Hall almost always takes the No. 1 rep. Hall, however, doesn't put much stock into any of that.

"You don't really look at it like that," he said. "I actually like getting the variety of working with the 1s, 2s and 3s. It makes you kind of know your stuff better. You're not always relying on people to make the calls and you know what the calls should be. I think it kind of sharpens your game working through all of the rotations."


John Kuhn and Aaron Rodgers
Jim Prisching/AP Images
Like Hall, Kuhn heard the talk about Johnson. Also like Hall, he didn't use that talk as motivation.

"I don't feel like you need any more motivation to come to camp," Kuhn said. "This is your job audition every year. If you come out and you're taking a play off, you're going to lose your spot. Competition only makes the position better."

Kuhn says he entered camp with a better understanding of the offense and improved flexibility to allow him to get low to displace whoever's in his way.

"He's playing with leverage," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "You talk about fundamentals — he's playing with some leverage, he's playing with pad level and he's doing a good job of just being consistent. That's a big part of it. Accelerating his feet and finishing blocks, that's something that we take pride in, and I think he's off to a good start."


Quinn Johnson
Mike Roemer/AP Images
Johnson, on the other hand, is off to a slow start. Johnson, who came from more of a man-on-man blocking scheme at LSU, appears to be thinking on the run — a bad thing when a linebacker like Desmond Bishop is flying into the play's destination. Too often, a play ends without Johnson blocking anyone.

"A little bit of the fullback position is a little bit of seek and destroy," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We don't always open up the Red Sea and there's one guy right there, and he's going to step up and you guys go at it like two bulls in a china shop. Obviously, we want that physical play out of that position. we want a guy that can bring some pop and leverage and power to that position. But the way our scheme is designed, it doesn't happen on every single play. Sometimes, you've got to jump around a guy to get to your guy. The way you draw it up on paper and the way it unfolds after the snap of the ball sometimes can change. So, a young guy needs to learn how to handle those adjustments. He needs to learn how plays change on the move. I think that's something he's working through right now."

Kuhn understands Johnson's struggles when asked to recall his rookie season.

"I know it was rough," Kuhn said. "It was trying to learn the playbook. You're not learning and picking up as fast as the other guys because the game's a little different from college. Physically, the guys are bigger, they're faster, they play with a lower pad level. All these things are things you learn throughout your whole rookie season, not just your rookie camp."

Tonight's game marks the first major moment of the fullback battle. Only two will make the roster. Who will start, who will be the backup and who will be out of a job? The process of finding those answers begins tonight.

"It's a competitive camp," Bennett said. "We have three guys that are more than capable of jumping in there and being productive. Obviously, when we get these opportunities to play in the preseason, guys gets a chance to go out there and executive. It's important."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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