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#11: Who Will Start At H-Back?
by Chris Ostrander, Contributing Correspondent Last Updated: 7/11/2007 1:03 PM ET
As training camp fast approaches Buffalobills.com prepares you by trying to answer the top 20 questions facing the Bills in 2007. Monday through Friday until the day before training camp, Buffalobills.com will present each of the key issues facing the team in an effort to have you the fan primed for all the action at St. John Fisher. Don't stray far from Buffalobills.com!
As the Bills offense settles into their second year under coordinator Steve Fairchild it is inevitable that the players will be more comfortable with the system they are running.
The offense has made big strides in the spring camps and quarterback J.P. Losman has even been quoted as saying they are farther ahead now than they were at any time last year.
With the continued evolution of the team comes the ability to expand certain packages, such as the no huddle, which was used frequently during OTAs and mini camps. While the no huddle will play a larger role in 2007, one of the biggest changes in the offense has been the installation of the h-back position.
One might question the use of an H-back to that of a traditional fullback, but there's something that an H-back bring can offer that a fullback does not. Versatility.
Previously, Daimon Shelton was the lead blocker for the Bills ball carrier. Now the position will be filled by one of the tight ends on the Buffalo's roster. And Brad Cieslak and Ryan Neufeld are the leading candidates.
The H-back in the Bills offense will not differ much from what previous fullbacks did in terms of responsibilities. The man who fills that position will still lead block for the Bills tailbacks, but they will also provide a great number of options as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
"Tight ends give you a little more flexibility because you don't throw it to the fullback all that much. In the passing game there's more flexibility," said Fairchild. "The role from a schematic standpoint is kind of similar; we're just doing it with tight ends."
In an offense that has appears poised to open up this season, having more weapons on the field in any given situation will provide the Bills with more ways of attacking opposing defenses.
"I think we can do a lot more stuff and not have to change personnel whereas if there was a true fullback on the roster it kind of narrows it down for the defense as to what our offense can do," said Neufeld.
Although this is the first year that the position will be utilized, when Shelton was injured last year Neufeld and Cieslak both stepped in to fill the void. Fairchild had a lot to say about both veterans and their ability to play the position. Neufeld's versatility is something that makes him a very attractive candidate.
"Last year we had him line up at fullback after Daimon Shelton got knocked out of a game," said Fairchild. "He functioned back there and had a feel for some of the inside the box traffic responsibilities that a fullback has to handle."
Cieslak's prior experience from last season and the time that he spent at the position in college will help him learn the nuances of the position and make a run at the starting job.
"I did a little bit of it in college and did some of that fullback-H-back stuff when Daimon went down last year," said Cieslak. "Going on the move it helps you out in a lot of ways. It's nice to have the opportunity to do more of it because you can really see what the defense is doing and where people are heading and as a result execute your assignments a little easier."
Although Cieslak and Neufeld are the two incumbents at the position, rookie Derek Schouman should not be ruled out of the mix. Schouman was Boise State's H-back in college.
While Schouman does hold an advantage over the veterans in time spent at the position he is still green to the NFL game, which will be the biggest hurdle he will need to clear.
"That's what he did at Boise State," said Fairchild. "He was that type of guy. He wasn't a point of attack guy, but more of a move tight end guy. He's more in our plans for that kind of role, so how much he can do we'll find out."
Although Schouman has had the most experience recently, he still needs to fine tune his game for the NFL. Training camp should produce an excellent battle between Cieslak and Neufeld to see who will be the starter.
The determining factor will likely be blocking, which means padded practices and preseason games will carry a lot of weight when it comes to the staff's final decision.
Neufeld saw more reps with the first team this spring and has shown he's capable as a blocker in the run game. Cieslak however, has a stockier build at 253 pounds so don't think that Neufeld will earn the role easily. The battle for the starting role should prove to be one of the most interesting competitions in training camp.