The news that came down Monday morning courtesy of our Bloghead feature, that second-year halfback Tony Hunt would get reps later in the day as the first-team fullback, recalled a moment from the spring during an interview with Hunt in the NovaCare Complex locker room.
The Eagles had just signed Dan Klecko with the intention of turning him into a fullback after a career at defensive tackle. A reporter walked up to Hunt and asked him about how the arrival of Klecko would impact Hunt.
"He's a fullback," said Hunt. "That's an entirely different position."
Not now, apparently.
It's true that there are few, if any, similarities in the positions of fullback and halfback in this offense. To make it as a halfback in the Eagles' version of the West Coast Offense, a player must be on point in every movement, in every read. It is a position of precision and of versatility. You don't play halfback here if your skill set is limited to, for example, running between the tackles on third-and-1 handoffs.
Fullback is an entirely different beast. Kevin Turner, Cecil Martin and Jon Ritchie were some of the better fullbacks to come this way in the last decade because they were fearless, wall-ramming players who had the physical toughness to handle the dirty work and because they had the intelligence to read blitzes and react accordingly to keep their quarterback clean. If the opportunity came around to get a carry here or there, they delivered. If they were called upon to catch a pass or two each week, they could do that, too.
Hunt is going to give fullback a try, and it isn't only because he gained 79 yards rushing last week against Carolina, including that 51-yard gallop in the fourth quarter that gave the Eagles a lead they would not relinquish. He is getting the opportunity because A) Nobody among the three who have taken all of the preseason reps at the position, Jason Davis, Jed Collins, Luke Lawton, have stepped up and put a stranglehold on the job; and 2) Because Hunt went down the field against Carolina and made two plays on special teams.
Obviously, the Eagles are searching for an answer at fullback. To say they are at wits end here is a reach, because the fullback position is one that plays minimal snaps in the offense historically, and could play even less this season. The Eagles clearly want Lorenzo Booker and/or Correll Buckhalter on the field with Brian Westbrook to create more mismatches when they spread the field, so the role of the fullback from the base offense could be less even than in years past.
But it's fair to say it is somewhat unsettling to not have zeroed in on their man halfway through the preseason schedule. The Eagles allowed Thomas Tapeh to leave in free agency, convinced they could upgrade in free agency, the draft or from the existing roster (Davis). To date, that has not happened.
So Hunt is the latest candidate to run with the starters. He deserves the shot, to show how multi-dimensional he can be. Hunt can succeed by being physical in the run game with his blocking, by catching the here-or-there pass that comes his way and by, most important, winning the battle on an every-day basis on special teams.
While it will be a physical adjustment for Hunt, the most challenging aspect to the change will be mental. He has been a star running back forever, and now Hunt has to wrap his arms around the idea of being, well, a grunt. Turner played until the pain in his shoulders would not subside. Martin beat himself silly running into would-be tacklers. Ritchie wore the horns he developed on his forehead -- actually, calcium deposits -- as if they were badges of honor.
Can Hunt accept the role? Can he give himself to special teams, and forget that two years ago he was a star running back at Penn State who had visions of similar stardom at this level?
Fullback is the one position that is fairly unsettled here. Shawn Andrews, it seems, is going to re-claim his right guard spot right away. Reggie Brown's injury woes of late have one wide receiver position in question a little bit, but the Eagles use so many personnel packages at wide receiver that it sometimes doesn't matter who starts, because everyone plays. The defense seems set across the board as far as the starters go, and, in fact, the two-deep depth chart seems pretty close to etched in stone at this point in the preseason.
Still hanging out there after all of these months is fullback. Klecko was moved back to defensive tackle late in the spring, ending an interesting experiment. Davis hasn't seized the job after having a two-year head start on everyone else. Lawton, acquired in a trade from Indianapolis in exchange for a conditional draft pick, has not made the push the Eagles expected. Collins has played well, has been the steadiest of all of the players and is probably either going to make the team as the starting fullback or earn strong consideration for a spot on the practice squad. But after a week running with the starters, Collins is now going to step aside and see how Hunt fares.
This is not as much about re-inventing Hunt as it is seeing how he can be most productive for this team. He can win the job if he busts his butt on special teams and makes plays there, and also if he displays toughness and courage and intelligence from the line of scrimmage.
Tony Hunt is a fullback today and for the immediate future as the carousel goes round and roud at the position.