Fullback spot going, going, not quite gone

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The Steelers have Troy Polamalu, who acts at times like a Tasmanian Devil. And they have Dan Kreider, who looks more and more like a Tasmanian wolf.

The Tasmanian wolf -- not really a wolf, by the way -- has been thought to be extinct for half a century. Still, there have been reported, but unconfirmed sightings, which closely describes the fullback position in the Steelers' offense.

The fullback is not extinct in the Steelers' game plan, but it is on the endangered list and there may be games this season in which they do not dress their only fullback.

Kreider is the one true fullback on the 86-man roster. Two others are halfbacks trying to serve dual roles, John Kuhn and Carey Davis.

All three will be on display tonight when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field, but perhaps not as often as in the past at that position.

Fullback once was a glamour job filled by Franco Harris. Then, the offense changed for good when Bill Cowher and offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt arrived in 1992 and installed the backfield scheme that, for the most part, exists on the team today -- one tailback and one blocker, who carries the name of fullback. Or, as coordinator Bruce Arians referred to the position, "guard."

"That's been traditional here with the fullback," Arians said. "He's another guard who hopefully can catch."

Kreider's career statistics will confirm that. He has been with the team since 2000 and been the starting fullback since 2002. He has 30 rushing attempts in the regular season, including one in 2006. He has 59 receptions. He has scored four touchdowns.

Now, he likely will not play as much. Arians will introduce four receivers on occasion on first and second downs with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center and not in a shotgun. They will line up Willie Parker as the only back on more occasions and use more tight ends in the backfield in the old fullback spot as H-backs.

"There will be fewer snaps,'' Arians said of the fullback position.

It's odd in a sense because the Steelers believe Kreider is the best at what he does in the NFL.

"I don't think there's any doubt," Arians said. "For a pure lead fullback, I don't think I'd want anyone else in the league."

Trouble is, as with typewriters, there's not much call for a lead fullback anymore in the Steelers' offense. Diversity and balance is the name of the game and lining up on first and second down in the I-formation is outmoded.

Kreider says he understands that.

"Obviously, in the passing game, we have a lot of weapons, and you want to spread it out when you can and let Ben do his work," Kreider said. "At the same time, you still want to be able to run the ball. As it stands right now, they seem to still have the desire for a fullback. We'll see what happens."

Kreider turned 30 in March. By that age, blocking fullbacks normally are done, the victims of crumbling shoulders (Tim Lester) or back problems (Jon Witman). That is what happens when even someone who weighs 255 pounds makes his living running 5 yards and burying his shoulders into players who regularly outweigh him, whether they are linemen or linebackers.

But Kreider has not had those problems.

"I try to take care of my body in the offseason and during the week. I have someone who does some soft tissue work on me and a chiropractor and stuff."

While Arians does not foresee the fullback disappearing or becoming extinct here, he has developed more alternatives and may actually turn to those at times instead of Kreider on game days.

"The only problem comes on your game-day roster," Arians said.

"If injuries occur and you're short a place or if you want different personnel, that spot right there could be axed if you have a tight end who can do it. On goal line, you can use somebody else."

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Dan Kreider's job as a blocking fullback is an endangered specie.
Click photo for larger image.

Game: Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers
7:30 p.m. at Heinz Field

TV/Radio: KDKA, WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970).

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Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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