Historically, a team's fullback was one of its meanest, nastiest players. They would maul opposing defenders to make way for a running back (or themselves), but the position began to fall out of favor as offenses shifted their focus to the passing game.
As one of the premier passing teams in the NFL, the Eagles are currently deciding between two skilled and versatile fullbacks in Stanley Havili and Emil Igwenagu. Both bring strength and pass catching ability, but only one will survive the preseason roster cutdown.
The fullback situation is an interesting one for the Eagles. Their pass-first mentality means there is less of a need for a large-bodied mauler on the field. But the team also employs LeSean McCoy, who is arguably the best running back in the league. The loss of left tackle Jason Peters means an extra blocker could play a critical role in the ground game this season.
Havili was drafted by the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft and spent last season on the practice squad. For him, that learning experience paid dividends.
"I think it's been huge, being on the practice squad and having that offseason, OTAs and mini-camps to learn from these coaches," Havili said. "And it's just been a huge step from last year to now."
That huge step has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
"Stanley has an opportunity now to be an integral part of our team," said wide receiver Jason Avant. "We have two really good ones, but Stanley, I think, can be really special."
"(The) fullbacks have been outstanding," center Jason Kelce said. "Stanley Havili is an extremely athletic guy who can also pop guys, so he's had a really good camp."
Havili said he isn't letting the praise go to his head. Until he gets into game situations, Havili said, he still has plenty to prove to his teammates.
"I think until we play games and I'm able to be out there and block and make plays with balls in my hands and I'll win over more of them," Havili said. "But so far I think I've done an OK job showing them I can be physical."
Igwenagu was signed as a rookie free agent in the spring and has provided competition throughout camp. Like Havili, he can block and catch, but he also brings added versatility. Igwenagu played tight end in college, and after tight end Brent Celek was injured during the first practice of Training Camp, Igwenagu filled in.
"I definitely feel good doing both," Igwenagu said. "They're both two completely different positions, but they're kind of similar in some ways at the same time. But I feel comfortable doing both."
Despite the talent at the position, the Eagles' use of the fullback could best be described as "minimal." Last season's starter Owen Schmitt saw 174 snaps all season, according to Pro Football Focus, good for 26th among fullbacks. Unsurprisingly, Havili and Igwenagu don't see many reps during Training Camp.
"If the offense is going in and getting six reps, the fullback is lucky to get one of those," said Kelce. "And he's lucky to get 10 plays a game. So you just have to be ready when your number's called."
The numbers game isn't something either player is thinking about. Instead they're focusing on playing their best and helping the team win.
"That's something that the coaches decide; it's just not up to me," Igwenagu said. "I can't worry about that. All I can worry about is what I do on the field and how I play."
"I just (want) to come out here and compete and to help this team," Havili said. "Whoever wins this job is going to help this team win."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider