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The art of the lead block — as explained by new Chiefs fullback Michael Burton

There’s more to blocking than just hitting someone hard.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In modern football, playing fullback is a lost art. The skillset it requires used to personify the sport. Now, fullbacks are on the field only for short-yardage offensive situations and special teams plays.

These days, there’s only a handful of NFL teams that even roster a fullback — let alone use one in a significant capacity. The Kansas City Chiefs are one that still does — as its signing of veteran Michael Burton has proved. They didn’t want to replace now-retired Anthony Sherman with an undrafted free agent or inexperienced player. Instead, they made sure to secure a fullback with NFL experience.

Burton recognizes the team’s viewpoint — and it’s one of the reasons he signed with the Chiefs.

“Scheme-wise, Coach Reid has always carried a fullback — even since his days in Philadelphia,” Burton recalled during his introductory press conference on Monday. “He’s always had one, evidenced by Anthony Sherman being here eight years in a row. Between the opportunity of being with a winning organization and the scheme fit, I thought this was a really good opportunity for me.”

You think of the traditional fullback as a simple, hard-nosed player whose only objective — one way or another — is to hit a defender as hard as they can. But as Burton laid it out, there’s more to it than that: there are different lead blocking techniques for the styles used by different running backs.

“I blocked for Adrian Peterson in Washington,” Burton explained. “He was a guy that wanted to get downhill quick, so you needed to make sure you got out of your stance and you were exploding through — more so than some other running backs. [Alvin Kamara] was patient. It’s just having a sense of what scheme and what they like to do — but overall, you have to get on your guy... [Peterson] will say sometimes, ‘Hey, don’t stop your feet. Just go’ — whereas there may be more reading with more patient backs and setting things up with your eyes.”

New Orleans Saints v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

It’s that level of attention to detail that likely attracted Andy Reid to Burton, who is a self-aware player — a trait that any fullback has to have if they want to succeed in today’s game. Even under a coach like Reid, special teams have become nearly the biggest part of playing the position — and it’s why Burton didn’t mince words when asked about that phase of the game.

“I expect my role to be a four-phaser. That’s the goal,” Burton declared. “Playing fullback, you have to be a four-phaser — you just have to be — and it’s really important to me to be a four-phaser and be a very good four-phaser.... That’s my goal... just to work as hard as you can to be that best special teams player, because it’s very important — especially in the fullback role.”

Playing on all four special team phases would be a changeup from what Burton did last season with the Saints — but if he wants to replace Sherman, it’s necessary. Over the last few seasons, Sherman’s biggest contributions have been as a special teams player.

Credit to Burton for understanding what kind of role he has to play. It’s a thankless position, but it’s also one that doesn’t go completely unnoticed. He may never be as loved by the fans as Sherman was, but Burton’s selflessness — and will-do attitude — is sure to earn him some popularity points among his coaches.

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