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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2009: Fullback Preview (Will Ali Make the Cut?)

With the running back training camp preview, you sort of get a two-for-one. With only two fullbacks on the roster, it wasn't worth giving the position its own three-to-four-day period. Nonetheless, you'll still have two full days to talk all you want about Lawrence Vickers and Charles Ali, as well as continuing the discussion on the running backs.

Romeo Crennel did a horrible job utilizing the roster he was provided with. The fullback position was included in that. Vickers was once praised by Crennel and Savage as a huge asset to the offense -- yet how many times did we run the ball with Jamal Lewis without Vickers in the backfield? Or, how many times were we struggling to protect the quarterback, but Charlies Ali would motion out of the backfield to the top of the screen?

Eric Mangini had a reliable fullback last year in veteran Tony Richardson. Richardson mostly did what he has always done -- blocked. It should be noted that the Jets only carried one fullback on their roster though, which could leave Ali shafted.


7929_medium Lawrence Vickers (#47)
Weight: 250
College: Colorado
Experience: 3 years
Stats: 5-of-6 in short runs

Is Vickers still a future Pro Bowler, as he looked to be two years ago? That'll depend on how he is utilized by Mangini. Vickers missed four games last season, allowing Ali to gain some experience in his place. People have suggested before that Vickers should be given more carries as almost a "third running back", like some teams do. He has the speed to pick up some nice yards, but I see Mangini keeping his non-blocking offensive involvement to a minimum.

I'm not going to do a specific worst attribute/best attribute for the fullbacks; I tried coming up with something, and the categories I came up with seemed a bit "forced" just for the sake of trying to find something.

Vickers seemed to improve upon his third-down situations last year.

1. 3rd-and-1: 2 yard gain (first down)
2. 2nd-and-1: 4 yard gain (first down)
3. 3rd-and-1: 2 yard gain (first down)
4. 3rd-and-1: No gain (led to punt)
5. 4th-and-1: 1 yard gain (first down)
6. 2nd-and-1: 2 yard gain (first down)

Five out of six isn't bad, and if I recall correctly, that is better than his 2007 campaign. Vickers also has pretty good hands; although we might not be running fullback screens as often as I'd like, his hands are definitely an asset when you get down on the goal line off of a playaction pass.

Job Security: A+
Player Quality: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8546_mediumCharles Ali (#41)
Weight: 255
College: Arkansas-Pine
Experience: 2 years
Note: Special teams

As an undrafted rookie free agent two years, Ali made the roster. He returned last season and ended up playing in all 16 games. Most of his action came on special teams, but when Vickers was hurt, he gained some starting experience. As a blocker, he wasn't elite, but he wasn't a weakness either. Throughout the season, Ali was praised by the coaches as another coveted player.

With a new coaching staff, it doesn't come down to talent as much as it does a numbers game. Personally, I am in favor of having two fullbacks on the roster. In a big game, I always want the luxury of having a backup ready to enter the game. A player like Noah Herron might be able to fill that role temporarily, but he doesn't have the same bulk that Ali does. Mangini carried one fullback when he coached the Jets last season; it's hard to believe that he'd change his mind and definitively want two fullbacks. Ali's chances will likely come down to whether or not special teams coordinator Brad Seely wants him on the roster or not. I say he'll make it.

Player Quality: C+
Final Roster Odds: 60%

FB Position Quality (Overall): B

Expanding more on keeping two fullbacks, another option is to just consider one of your tight ends a backup fullback. Darnell Dinkins could have been an emergency fullback last year; could Robert Royal or Steve Heiden be given that consideration this year? Two years ago, the Jets did have two fullbacks on their roster, but both of them were listed as hybrid fullbacks/tight ends.