Some of the more potent offenses in the NFL still feature a fullback. The New York Jets appear to be turning to Wesco to try it again.
Though hope reigns through newcomers, the New York Jets are in no position to turn down any method of boosting their offensive momentum…even if the potential approaches are considered archaic by NFL standards.
The fullback is an endangered species in the modern league, as the days of Mike Alstott and Daryl Johnston have gone the way of the Oilers and the tuck rule. Causes of the countdown to potential extinction have never been truly isolated, though the rise of single-back sets and empty backfields in the shotgun has more or less convinced teams that offensive resources are better spent on receivers and blockers.
But there’s no denying that the fullback still has a role in today’s game and can play an active role in a good team’s success. Several successful squads, including Super Bowl participants, still have a specifically listed fullback on their roster.
That made it a tad more surprising that the Jets didn’t make a stronger push for Kyle Juszczyk, the Bay Area staple that stands as the NFL’s premier fullback. It probably would’ve taken a lot for the Jets to lure Juszczyk over. Juszczyk’s five-year, $27 million contract was one of the first deals announced at the commencement of the movement period, done even before the legal tampering period got underway. But considering the Jets brought several former San Francisco 49er bosses (including Juszczyk’s old offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur), it was still somewhat surprising not to see a larger New York case made.
Even so, the Jets can use all the protection and weaponry they can get, especially with yet another franchise quarterback, Zach Wilson, on the path to his NFL debut. A fullback can provide both, even in its unsung status, though it has been a while since they fully utilized the position. The closest thing the Jets have had to consistent glory days were earned with a fullback in tow. Richie Anderson was a metropolitan essential for a decade while Tony Richardson ended his accomplished NFL career with the Jets’ AFC finalist squads in 2009-10.
Richie Anderson's epic touchdown in the #Jets' 41-0 spanking of Peyton Manning and the Colts in the 2002 playoffs.
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) July 30, 2020
New York’s offensive bosses appear to have taken the hint.
“You like to have a fullback. You like to be in those traditional 21-personnel formations. It just keeps the defense balanced a little bit more,” LaFleur said at the end of this week’s minicamp activities, per notes from the Jets. “You can go lead their way so you can control the angles, particularly in the run game and obviously all the play passes that come off of it. (Juszczyk) was the traditional fullback, there’s no doubt, and he’s obviously performed at a high level, maybe one of the best ever, who knows. He’s certainly gotten paid like the best ever, and I love Juice, so he deserves all of it.”
But there’s no use crying about the past. Excuses, after all, don’t exactly have a place in head coach Robert Saleh’s quickly-adapted “all gas, no brake” mantra, nor does looking back at the past. After all, the Jets mostly avoided getting the San Francisco band back together. A major exception was made through running back Tevin Coleman, but the only other Santa Clara holdovers (receiver Matt Cole and running back Austin Walter) face uphill battles to make the roster.
Even if on-field personnel from San Francisco won’t be making the journies to Florham Park and East Rutherford, LaFleur and the new offensive staff won’t hesitate to employ similar looks in their new surroundings.
If LaFleur’s final statements of training camp are any indication, expect the Trevon Wesco experiment to continue behind Wilson. Modern fullback endeavors have often substituted a bred fullback for a tight end, offensive lineman, or even linebacker to play the role. It appears that the Jets plan to utilize the 267-pound Wesco to establish the role again.
Surprisingly, LaFleur has worked with Wesco before, even though their paths never crossed in San Francisco. The 49ers’ staff served as the coaches for the South squad in the 2019 Senior Bowl, where Wesco represented West Virginia. He was used as a fullback throughout the afternoon, earning three receptions in a 34-24 defeat to the North. Three months later, the Jets made him the 121st overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“We played him a little bit at fullback and got to know him,” LaFleur recalled. “He was really the same guy there as he is here in terms of his personality. He’s a very confident dude, he loves being out there and yes, he is our fullback right now.”
Wesco is no stranger to the fullback experiment, as the Jets have tried to work him into the role over the past two seasons. The fourth-round selection burst onto the scene with a memorable showing in a rare regular season contest against the Giants. A fullback dive to Wesco on a one-yard fourth down produced a first down and kept an eventual Jets scoring drive going. He’d later go on to recover a backfield fumble the following week in Washington. Wesco likewise earned two reception in more traditional tight end duties, each of which went for first downs.
— John (@John_Pentol_) December 22, 2019
Last season’s fieldwork didn’t go so well. Wesco got only a single carry, an unsuccessful third-and-one carry deep in Arizona Cardinal territory. The project was more or less shut down when Wesco suffered an ankle injury in practice, but it’s clear that LaFleur wants to reestablish it. It could wind up being the way that Wesco plays his way onto the Jets’ Week 1 roster. Doing so as a tight end is a less certain endeavor with former Buffalo Bill Tyler Kroft added to the proceedings.
Wesco was downright euphoric when discussing his duties as a fullback with team reporter Randy Lange last season.
“I like it,” the former Mountaineer said. “You’ve got to be a man to be back there, that’s how I look at it. Not a lot of people want to run five yards, full speed, collision.”
August’s training camp, as well as a trio of exhibition games, should help the Jets further establish the offensive identity they’re pursuing. LaFleur admits that Wesco probably isn’t going to be the next Juszczyk…then again, that might not even exist…but he sees him as a prime spark that can ignite the Jets’ offensive fire.
The Jets, according to LaFleur, don’t need another Kyle Juszczyk. He says that Wesco’s size (over 25 pounds heavier than “Juice”) could in fact allow LaFleur and his staff to accomplish things he wasn’t able to in San Francisco.
“Is he going to do all the same stuff that (Juszczyk) could do? Probably not. Is he going to do some stuff that (Juszczyk) couldn’t do? Absolutely,” LaFleur said. “He’s a bigger body, he’s longer. He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations. So, he’s embracing it.
“The fullback, kind of like our tight end, which obviously Wesco is a tight end, has a lot of moving parts and you’ve got to be able to process what’s going on post-snap and change direction, do all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a challenge but he’s a guy that has done a really good job at it and it’ll be really cool when we put on the pads and get into training camp and preseason.”
Should the Jets continue to use Wesco as a fullback? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags