This is not something that happened out of the blue. It has been a way of offensive life for the Eagles for several seasons, really since the start of the Andy Reid Era. There was the exception for a single season, in 2009, when Leonard Weaver made the Pro Bowl and totaled a whopping 85 touches (70 carries, 15 receptions), but other than that fullback has been an inglorious component in the high-scoring Eagles scheme.
The names roll of the tongue quickly. Kevin Turner was a holdover from the Ray Rhodes era and the last all-purpose fullback to string together more than a single season of significant input for the Eagles. Cecil Martin followed Turner for a couple of seasons -- his most memorable moment was catching a Donovan McNabb pass for a touchdown on his knees in the playoff win at Chicago that sent the Eagles to their first NFC Championship Game under Reid -- before the Eagles signed Jon Ritchie in free agency, providing the hope that maybe, just maybe, they would incorporate the fullback more into the offense.
Ritchie caught 17 passes, 3 for touchdown, in 2003, but a knee injury early in 2004 effectively ended his NFL career. The Eagles used converted linebacker Josh Parry for most of the rest of that NFC Championship-winning season, if only in the most ancillary of roles.
Parry was a super-tough guy, a great kid, and he carried 16 times in that nightmarish 2005 season, gaining 79 yards and he added 13 carries and, wow, did that 29 touches seem pretty routine for the Eagles' version of the West Coast offense.
Then it was time for Thomas Tapeh to see if he could convert from a college halfback at Minnesota to a fullback in the NFL. He had some moments, caught a pass or three and made some moves, but he battled some injuries and was done in Philadelphia after the 2007 campaign.
Dan Klecko, the Do-Everything player who had been such a success on the other side of the ball in New England and Indianapolis, pushed aside Jason Davis as the starter and gave it a go. Didn't last long.
The Eagles then reached out in free agency for Weaver prior to the 2009 season and he ended up having a Pro Bowl season, parlayed that into a three-year contract that made him the highest-paid fullback in the NFL and then suffered what is likely to be a career-ending injury in the opening game of the 2010 season.
For the last two seasons the fullback job has been manned capably by Owen Schmitt, who had some good touches and who blocked pretty well and understood his role very well. And the role was this: The fullback played about 16 percent of the snaps in 2011 of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg preferred three-wide receiver sets and two-tight end sets to the traditional personnel packages that employed two receivers, a tight end and two backs.
So now Schmitt is an unrestricted free agent looking for a job. And the Eagles have been in absolutely no rush to make a move at fullback and you wonder why.
Well, I'll throw out a few reasons why during these slow news days. One, the Eagles feel very good about the chances that second-year man Stanley Havili is going to play well in 2012. He was a seventh-round draft pick last year and used his time on the practice squad to heal a shoulder that had given him problems at USC and to build up his body to 240 pounds. The Eagles see him as a more athletic fullback, someone who can help in a lot of different ways. Havili caught 114 passes at USC, the most by a fullback in school history.
That's reason one. Reason two is that the Eagles just don't think there is a player out there who is that much better than Havili, whom they really want to see in action. Three is that the draft is said to have a handful of good fullbacks, so maybe the Eagles will use a draft pick to provide competition.
Four, and this is one of the important bottom lines to remember, the Eagles aren't going to change their philosophy at fullback. They want Jason Avant and Clay Harbor on the field as pass-catching threats more than they want a fullback gumming up the works. The fullback -- whether it is Havili or someone else -- is going to play here and there from the line of scrimmage, particularly in goal-line situations, and he will have to step up on special teams.
He isn't, under just about any circumstances, going to carry the ball 5-8 times per game. It just isn't going to happen with LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek needing their touches. There are only so many touches when a team snaps the football on offense 60, maybe 65, times each game.
The fullback, then, remains largely anonymous in this offense now and forever, it seems. It could be that Havili develops into a standout, and I've had enough private conversations with those in the know to understand that the Eagles think he can be an excellent all-around player, but I'm not sure how much that is going to change the dynamics of the offense.
To borrow a phrase I dislike more than any: The fullback is what he is in this Eagles offense, a role-playing position player who is largely unnoticed unless something goes wrong. Long gone are the days when the West Coast offense, this West Coast offense, featured the fullback. It just isn't going to happen in an offense filled with a galaxy of stars.