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.”
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.