Up next on the docket are the fullbacks.
What to expect: After two underwhelming seasons with Darian Barnes at fullback, the team went out and signed a bona fide lead blocker in Schlesinger. He should be able to provide a much better battering ram for Ronnie Brown to run behind, opening more holes and allowing Brown more space and time to make moves. In order to see the importance of a good blocking fullback, one needs only to look at the offense that Cam Cameron ran in San Diego with Lorenzo Neal paving the way for LaDanian Tomlinson. Schlesinger may not have the same incredible abilities as Neal, but he can more than hold his own. Training camp will be an interesting time to determine whether the team will keep two fullbacks on the roster, and if so, who will make the cut. The team has Kyle Eckel and they drafted Reagan Mauia. Overall, expect a definite upgrade at the fullback position from last season.
Here's a closer look at the individual fullbacks currently on the roster and what can be expected of them this coming season:
You don't last 12 years in the NFL with the same team that drafted you unless you are really good at what you do. In fact, there's a good chance that Schlesinger would still be in Detroit if Mike Martz hadn't taken over the offensive coordinator position for the Lions in 2006. Martz prefers to use a wide open offense with three receiver sets, and so he has very little use for a fullback. So the Lions' loss became Miami's gain, and Ronnie Brown will now benefit from having a great lead blocker in front of him. Cory may be getting up there in age (he's 35), but he still has a couple good years left in him, especially considering that his workload has been reduced significantly over the past two seasons. His blocking prowess was recognized when he was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in three consecutive seasons from 2003-2005. Schlesigner has adequate running ability, but he probably will only get a handful of carries throughout the season. More important, however, is that he has pretty good hands for a fullback. He will serve as a nice outlet option in the flat on pass plays.
Eckel is different from Schlesinger and Mauia in that he is more of a running fullback. In college, he had 13 games with 100+ rushing yards, and he finished his senior year with 1,147 yards and 11 TDs. In the 2005 preseason, he rushed for 80 yards on 20 carries while with the Patriots. He's smaller than the other two fullbacks on the roster, making him a kind of hybrid FB/RB player in the mold of Heath Evans. I think Cameron prefers his fullbacks to primarily be lead blockers, so Eckel may be the odd man out between the three FBs, but I would not be surprised if the coaches gave Eckel the opportunity to compete for the third-running back spot during training camp.
Mauia is a bruising FB. Once a NT, he is a big-bodied (6'0", 270 lbs.) battering ram who has the potential to be a powerful run-blocker. He also has decent hands out of the backfield. He's raw and will benefit from being tutored by Corey Schlesinger. I wouldn't be surprised if Mauia lands on the practice squad this year while he refines his blocking skills and learns from Schlesinger. By the time Schlesinger is gone though, Mauia should be ready to come in and be a solid blocker for Ronnie Brown. If he can show an ability to block on special teams, he may make the roster this season.
Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Cory Schlesinger
2. Reagan Mauia (practice squad)
Training camp battle to watch: The most important thing to watch during training camp will be whether or not the team plans to keep two FBs on the roster. If they do, then Eckel will have to battle with Mauia for that spot. However, I think that Eckel may be given a look at RB during camp.