Le'Ron looking introspective, via d.yimg.com
The true fullback is a dying breed. Back in the day, every team ran a two back set with a speedy halfback and bruising fullback. Both ran often, both blocked often, and the best offenses normally had the best duo.
Kansas City has a very good history of having good fullbacks. Let's take a look back at all the fullbacks who spent a reasonable amount of time here, and had a big impact.
The very first star fullback Kansas City/Dallas ever drafted was actually tight end/running back Curtis McClinton. At 6'3, 230 pounds when he was drafted in 1961 in Round 14, many thought he may be converted to an offensive line position. But good ol' Hank Stram had a different idea. He saw the potential in Curtis and kept him at fullback where he played at Kansas. He paired Curtis' power and blocking with fellow fullback Jack Spikes' toughness and consistency and halfback/receiver Abner Haynes speed, elusiveness and receiving ability. The trio ended up leading the second best rushing offense in the league (behind Buffalo's record-breaking season) and the running game ran roughshot over the hapless Houston Oilers in the AFL Championship. Curtis stayed in KC from the AFL Championship in 1962 to the Super Bowl winners in 1969. He was able to stick around because of his running, blocking, and receiving ability.
In the middle of Curtis' career, the Chiefs had a spark from another fullback, Mack Lee Hill. His squat, 5'11 and 230 pounds frame was an intimidating sight for linebackers lined up across from him and his no-nonsense attitude was something that made veterans respect this rookie runner. After a very promising 1964 seasons where he ran for nearly 600 yards (remember, this was the 60's. Backs VERY rarely broke the 1,000 yard plane because teams used a mess of runners to keep the offense less predictable). Mack's name and physical style of running earned him the nickname "The Truck". Tragically, during his 1965 season (in which he was on pace to break 700 yards) complications during a knee surgery took his life, putting an end to a very promising career. His number (36) is retired, and an award for the most outstanding Chiefs rookie every year is named after Mack Lee Hill.
Then there was the duo with the Rings, consisting of Wendell Hayes and Robert Holmes. Many of us seem to remember the Super Bowl Chiefs as a passing team, with Lenny throwing up jump balls to the likes of Otis Taylor and Fred Arbanas. But I took a look at the stats, and they led the AFL in rushing in 1969. This was largely due to Stram's ingenuity, and the blocking of these to fullbacks/the O-line. Stram was the first coach to truly take advantage of audibles, and formation shifts. He thought that if he could confuse a defensive player into not knowing what his job is, he had done his part. It didn't matter to him if the halfback, flanker, fullback, or tight end got the ball because he had the best O-line in pro football leading the way and he knew he could get yardage with anyone. Hayes and Holmes were both downhill running, 220 pounds backs with great blocking ability and could catch the ball well. Their punishing and consistent running styles, along with their blocking for Mike Garrett and Len Dawson were unappreciated parts of that Super Bowl team.
During the early and mid 70's we had few outstanding FB's. During the late 70's and early 80's, we had a very versatile and consistent player that a few of you may have forgotten, Ted McKnight. He was never flashy. He never got any glory or asked for any, but he got the job done on some less that spectacular teams. He was a strong runner who also could block and catch well. He had a powerful goalline dive and did whatever he could for the team. Very team first guy that reminds me of Le'Ron.
Between the McKnight era and 1987, we had a few notable fullbacks like Billy Jackson, Theotis Brown and James Hadnot. But none came close to Christian Okoye, aka the Nigerian Nightmare. He came from small Enugu, Nigeria and played only soccer as a child. He didn't even know what American football was until he got a scholarship to go to Azusa Pacific University in California because of his shotput prowess. He decided to not go to the Olympics for Nigeria, and so he decided to do something to occupy his mind. At 6'1, 270 and reportedly could run a 4.4, the football coach at Azusa DESPERATELY tried to get Christian to try out. But Christian didn't like it at first, he didn't find any skill in the game and just thought it was a bunch of big guys hitting each other. But through determination, the coach finally got Christian to try out and his friends convinced him to keep with it. At first, he didn't get it. He would try to block the linebacker even if they didn't blitz, he would cry when he got knicked, he couldn't catch a pass for his life. But over time, he got it. He led Division II 2 times in his junior and senior season. This kind of performance and his potential led Christian to be drafted in Round 2. He led the Chiefs in rushing in 1987, his rookie season. He was the lead blocker in 1988, and had his breakout season in 1989. When he led the league in rushing.
But the one thing that stood out through it all was his attitude. Despite his fearsome on the field play, he was easily the nicest player in he league. Every defender he bowled over, he helped up. Every time a player made a good block, he pointed towards them after the play to give them credit. Every guy who made a good hit on him, he congratulated (remember the Atwater hit? Sure you do. He got drilled and as soon as he got hit, he hopped up and gave Atwater a hug). He did all sorts of charity work and personified the Chiefs of that era so well. Big, physical, nasty. But off the field and between plays they were soft-spoken, polite and gracious.
Kimble Anders was the definition of versatility. He blew open holes for Marcus Allen, he could run well, and was used for a lot of screens and dump-off passes. His thunderous hitting was not reminiscent of his size however, as he was just over 220 pounds. He was also a Pro-Bowler 1995-1997.
The time between Anders starting and Tony Richardson starting was uneventful for fullbacks, as we really didn't even know who was our starting FB or HB. Donnell Bennett and Bam Morris blocked for each other and both ran a lot, but it was no until Tony came that the running game really took off. Despite leading the Chiefs in rushing in 2000 and being our 3rd down back for his entire career here since going undrafted, he was not not known for his running or receiving. Tony was known for his great understanding of blocking angles and willingness to really go after his blocks. He paved the way for Priest Holmes and LJ, two of the highest single season rushers in Chiefs history. He was ditched in 2006, and many wondered what happened to Larry, why he started sucking so bad. There were a few reasons, one was that Willie Roaf and Will Shields retired before 2007 (when 2.7 emerged), and the other was that Tony left. Tony was a great blocker, runner and receiver, but his locker-room leadership just as important as his on-the-field play.
CURRENT DAY, Le'Ron McClain.
So what have we learned about former Chiefs fullbacks? The two words that really stick out are versatility and leadership. Le'Ron's got all of them, but IT'S NOT BEING PUT TO USE.
A little back-story on Le'Ron (this is the last one, I promise). He was a hard-working country boy born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He went to Alabama where he had a very successful career. This led him to be the best fullback prospect for the 2007 NFL Draft. He was drafted by the Ravens, where he started for them and blocked for 1, 200 yard rusher Willis McGahee. 2008 was easily his best year, as injuries to McGahee led McClain to become Baltimore's leading rusher and he went for over 900 yards. He didn't get many carries in 2009-2010, but he did block for Ray Rice who ran for 1, 300 yards and 1, 200 yards respectively. He then got dropped in favor of Houston Texans brusier Vonta Leach and the rest you already know about.
Jamaal got hurt the second game of the year after being second in the league in rushing last year and spearheading the #1 rushing offense in the league, and though we had terrible backups and a weak run-blocking offensive line, Le'Ron never doubted the Chiefs or the running game. He mauled linebackers and defensive backs for 34 year-old Thomas Jones, slot receiver Dexter McCluster, and fullback/special-teamer Jackie Battle and this rag tag group of runners were able to lead a 15th ranked (so slightly above-average) rushing offense behind the smallest O-line in the league. A lot of that was because McClain's blocking.
But obviously his blocking is not his only good attribute as he had nearly 1, 000 yards on the ground in 2008. He also showed glimpses of being a great receiver this year (the big 3rd down catch against San Diego on MNF was a big one, along with some great screens against Green Bay), however he did drop a few. He runs very well and probably had the best vision of any of our runners, despite not having a lead-blocker and only being like 2 yards off the line of scrimmage. When Romeo came in as head coach he got a lot more carries and receptions so I think that Romeo sees something in him Haley did not. Todd used him as a blocker almost entirely (I would be fine with that if we had gotten Vonta Leach as opposed to Le'Ron). But Le'Ron has more potential.
He has had some good runs this season in the limited carries he has. He had a big run against Detroit, a TD versus Oakland (it was a fumble, but they counted it as a non-fumble and McClain TD), a crucial first down run against the Packers and a much needed 10-yard comfort run against Denver to get us out of our own endzone. Le'Ron is a big 6 foot 265 pound fullback who is an obviously powerful blocker and runner, with the ability to run over smaller defensive backs and the occasional LB, but his agility, speed and stiff-arm are actually quite underrated and he is not quite the one-dimensional runner you'd expect that big of guy to be.
He's also a very social, team-first guy who has the kind of attitude that really helps a team. He tweets about his teammates constantly, is always in touch with them, is a big locker room and on the field leader (remember the fight between Cassel and Haley? Le'Ron was the first guy trying to break it up), and never doubts the Chiefs for a minute. After out third loss of the season when we were still without a win, Le'Ron tweeted "4-3 from here to week 8" and we went 4-3 from there to week 8.
Taking a look at Brian Daboll's fullback's of his offense, he is a big fan of them. When he was with Cleveland and had Lawrence Vickers, Vickers didn't get a ton of carries or receptions but was utilized as a blocker almost every single play. But when you look at Charles Clay, Miami's fullback in 2011, he lined up as a H-back/fullback/slot receiver a LOT and got targeted very often. He was used as a safety blanket when no one else was open because he oftentimes was matched up against DB's who he could overpower for a few extra yards. He could also block from this position, too.
How would you like to see McClain get utilized in 2012, and your thoughts on his free-agency?