Since our Super Bowl trip in 2003, what has been one thing that has been attributed to the Panthers? It's that we've had a strong, smash mouth running game. And through all the years of the John Fox era, the running game has been a constant here in Carolina. Whether it was Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster or DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Goodson, we've always had someone capable of "Pounding it". Though a lot of that success can be attributed to a very good O-Line, there was another position that greatly helped our Running Backs and that position was at Full Back. Of Coarse in those times we had someone called Brad Hoover blocking for our guys and helping them get to the second and third levels and producing many of the awesome runs we've seen here in Carolina. After releasing Hoover at the end of the 2009 season we let his heir apparent, Tony Fiametta, take the reins and though he's improved vastly in his first two seasons his play still leaves much to be desired. Although Full Back isn't a glaring need on this team, it would be nice to have a bruising full back once again leading the way for our running backs and making our running attack one of the most feared in the league. We'll take a look at some of the more notable free agents available after the jump.
Leach was one of the huge factors in helping Arian Foster have such a monstrous season in 2010. Vonta Leach is a good sized Full Back standing at 6'0'' and weighing in at 255 lbs. He's a very good run blocker, a reliable pass catcher out of the back field, and is efficient in short yardage situations. Leach has good vision that allows him to get to the holes and deliver a punishing block allowing his running back to reach the second level and gain good yardage. He has average pass blocking ability and is very good at picking up the extra assignment. With Arian Foster, Owen Daniels, and Mike Brisiel all needing new contracts this offseason it's a realistic possibility that the Panthers can lure Leach away from the Texans and would allow Fiametta time to sit and learn behind a reliable, experienced Full Back.
Le'Ron McClain is great run blocking Full Back, with the ability to be a game-breaking running back. McClain was a big part of the Ravens playoff resurgence and a very dangerous weapon for the Baltimore offense. He's the primary blocker for Ray Rice and is an integral part of the Ravens running game. McClain is very good at run blocking and is also an efficient pass blocker easily picking up the slack on an extra man in the back field. Though he had a drop off in carries, yards, and receptions last season he still has the potential to be a game-changing play maker in any offense. The only draw back is that McClain has expressed wanting to be more involved in the offense, and in that sense he wouldn't really fit in to our current system because we already have three capable play makers in Williams, Stewart, and Goodson. Nevertheless, he would be an instant upgrade at Full Back and would definitely help our running game return to relevance.
Marcel Reece is a very big(6'3'' 240 lbs.), bruising full back with very good run blocking ability and is a very reliable pass catcher out of the back field. Reece was the primary blocker for Darren McFadden and Michael Bush and is a big reason for the Raiders resurgent running game. He has good vision, can find the holes and pick up his blocking assignment consistently and delivers very good blocks allowing the running backs to reach the second, even third, level. The only down side to Reece is that his pass blocking leaves much to be desired and he definitely needs to work on that if the Panthers realistically look at signing him. Though he would also provide an effective run blocker for our team and would help bring our running game back to relevance.
I'll bet I wasn't the only Panther fan irked(although irked is an understatement) at the release of Brad Hoover after the 2009 season. And rightfully so, Hoover was our starting Full Back since the 2002 season and a huge reason our running game was so effective. He had almost a sixth sense about where to find the holes and was one tough son of a gun delivering many tough blocks allowing our running backs to easily reach the second and third levels. His his passing blocking was never seen as his main strength although he was an excellent pass blocker as well, picking up missed assignment and extra men in the back field with ease. His best years came in the 5 seasons before his release, and during that time he battled through many injuries his last being back problems in 2009. He is a very reliable blocker and a decent runner, mostly used in short yardage or goal line situations. We would definitely benefit from bringing the Hoov back to block for our running backs, but it seems unlikely. Though it would be a nice to have #45 back in Carolina Black and Blue.
Other notable free agent Full Backs:
Lawrence Vickers- Very reliable pass/run blocker, though had a dismal 2010 season.
John Kuhn- Very good blocker and reliable goal line/short yardage runner.
Brian Leonard-Good run blocker, not a reliable pass blocker.
Heath Evans-Also a very good run/pass blocker, but recent season ending knee injury in 2010 is a concern.
Well there you have Panther fans! As I've said before Full Back is not really a need, but it would still be nice to pick up one of these guys and let FIametta sit another year or two and fully learn the position.