Matt Patricia on if he needs to be more aggressive, Dec. 17, 2018.
Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
They turned a linebacker into a fullback and drafted a quarterback who converted to the position in college, and with both those players on the shelf with injuries, the Detroit Lions’ latest improvisation has them using an offensive lineman as their lead blocker in the backfield.
Guard Joe Dahl has played as the Lions’ primary fullback for most of the last three weeks with starter Nick Bellore nursing an ankle injury, and he’s looked as natural as any 305-pounder could at the position.
Dahl played 10 snaps in last week’s 14-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills, many at fullback, and helped clear a path to the end zone on Zach Zenner’s 1-yard touchdown run.
“It’s good,” Dahl said. “Anything I can to help is, sign me up. It definitely took a few reps in practice and the games to get comfortable with it and I think each week it’s feeling more and more comfortable.”
Dahl said he never played running back at any level of football before the last three weeks — the closest he came was playing some tight end as a high school sophomore — but there’s obviously some carry over from his regular duties as an offensive lineman.
“The biggest thing is there’s a lot more times where the defender’s trying to just cut me,” Dahl said. “He’s kind of going low, cause a lot of times I’m leading up in the hole and they’re just trying to hold their ground and blow it up. So there’s definitely a lot of times when guys are going low on me.”
There’s also a lot of times where Dahl gets a running start at his defender, something that doesn’t always happen playing in the phone booth of the interior offensive line.
“That’s definitely one of the advantages of it is you get a good 5-yard running head start at somebody,” he said laughing.
While Dahl is not a candidate to play fullback permanently, he’s part of the NFL’s ever evolving landscape at the position.
Lions coach Matt Patricia said teams tend to experiment more at fullback than any other position because of the niche responsibilities the job entails.
The way most offenses are currently constructed, fullbacks see maybe a dozen snaps a game, primarily in short-yardage and goal-line packages. Rather than use a roster spot on a player with such a limited role, teams have been known to try to create their fullbacks.
Bellore was a backup linebacker and special-teams standout for most of his career before he saw spot duty at fullback last season. When the Lions re-signed him as a free agent in the spring, they did so intending to make him a fullback full-time.
In April, the Lions also used a seventh-round pick on Nick Bawden, who converted to fullback after originally playing quarterback in college. Bawden tore his ACL in the spring and is out for the year.
“For all of us, when we look at college and college rosters and we try to find those guys that can play that fullback position, it’s necessarily not as I would say prevalent as what it has been maybe in previous years,” Patricia said. “So we’re continuously looking at players that play different positions and can they make that transition because it is a spot on the roster that’s kind of a great niche spot to have when you’re trying to put your 53 together. And certainly if you’re somebody coming out of college that can fill those kind of obligations and fill those roles, you can find yourself in a good situation.”
Dahl was active for just five of the Lions’ first 11 games this season, and played a total of just four offensive snaps in those games, before adding some fullback responsibilities in a Week 12 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
He’s played 26 snaps over the last three games and said he’s “really happy with the role that they’ve created for me” even though it hasn’t yielded him any carries yet.
“Just a guy that’s really smart, a guy that can handle a lot of different things and really just loves to go play and loves to go be in a position to help the team,” Patricia said. “I think that’s the best part. We trust him to go out there and do whatever it is you’re asking him to do at a high level and he’s going to go give you everything he has.”
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