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2012 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: FB

After previewing the quarterbacks and the running backs, it’s time to turn our attention to the other backfield position, the fullback, in our preseason positional analysis series.

For the past six seasons, the Titans’ starting fullback has been Ahmard Hall. The former Texas Longhorn’s contract expired following the end of the 2011 season, though, and the Titans elected not to re-sign him. There will be a camp competition for his starting job, between a veteran and a younger player whose pre-Titans trajectory in some ways mirrored Hall’s.

The veteran is Quinn Johnson. Acquired in a trade with the Green Bay Packers at the end of last training camp to fill the void created by Hall’s four-game suspension, Johnson sadly lived up to his advance reputation. I did not rate his fullback play highly, as he seemed to struggle to locate and then block the free man in the Titans’ preferred zone run plays. The Titans seemed to agree, waiving him when Hall returned from his suspension, and I thought the Titans were done with him.

The Titans apparently felt otherwise, though, grabbing him off waivers when the Broncos let him go the same week the Titans placed Javon Ringer on injured reserve. Possibly to avoid fulfilling the trade conditions (it would’ve cost the Titans a seventh-round pick had Johnson played in more games than four), Johnson sat those games, as the Titans chose to go with only CJ?k and Harper instead of activating a third running back.

Johnson’s competition is Collin Mooney, and he seems in some way an analogue to Hall. Hall’s nickname with the Titans was “Sarge,” thanks to his pre-collegiate service in the Marine Corps, including stints in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. Mooney played his college ball at West Point, and is joining the Titans after serving his three years in the Army (as an officer, rather than an enlisted man). I’m not going to pretend I know anything about Mooney as a player, but will simply note the Titans have not kept an undrafted free agent for the entire season since Hall in 2006.

When I did the offseason positional analysis, I noted the idea that Jamie Harper could be a West Coast-style fullback as a receiver, but expressed my doubts and haven’t heard any more noises from the Titans or the people who cover them about the idea. Given his traits as a runner, the conversion seems like a stretch to me, and I’m not expecting him to get any snaps at the position this year.

Independent of whom the fullback will be, though, is the fact that fullback isn’t as important an offensive position to the Titans as it used to be. The first five years of Hall’s career, the Titans tended to have two backs in the game roughly 40% of the time; it fluctuated a bit, going up some years and down in others. Hall also was on occasion the lone back in a one-man backfield, standing next to the quarterback. Javon Ringer has now taken over that duty, though, and the Titans went from a team that didn’t use three wide receivers very often to one that used them a whole lot more. As Palmer continues the transition to his offense, I would expect the fullback to play an even smaller role on this field this season unless QJ or Mooney demonstrates surprising skills.

That diminution of offensive responsibilities for the potential fullback means that the relative importance of special teams becomes greater. With only 46 players on the active roster, players who see a small but real and generally needed role on offense or defense have to be contributors to be active.  My speculation is that the Titans re-acquired Johnson because they liked his special teams performance, but I admit that’s just speculation.

Quinn Johnson or Collin Mooney? Mooney or Johnson? One of them will win the fullback job. When Andrew did his roster prediction, he said Mooney. When I did mine, I said Johnson. The Titans clearly liked something they saw from his play last year, enough to pick him up again, so my thinking is he’s the slight favorite to win the job. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them give it to Mooney, though. Whomever it will be, he won’t see the field as much as Ahmard Hall did for most of his career.