We continue our trip around Tennessee Titans position by position as we approach the 2012 regular season with a look at the fullback position.
The first question you could reasonably ask is, does the fullback really deserve a separate post in this series? Will the Titans actually carry a separate fullback? It's a dying breed in the NFL, with the average NFL team running "11" personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) 46% of the time, and "12" (one back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) also increasingly popular. Neither formation generally includes a fullback, at least in the modern conception where the fullback is a blocker like Lorenzo Neal, to use a familiar name to Titans fans who came to emblemize the position leaguewide.
When I did the offseason positional analysis, I noted I expected the 2013 Titans to use a fullback a lot more. After all, that's what Dowell Loggains' mentor Mike Heimerdinger did. Since then, though, Loggains has thrown a bit of water on that talk, indicating the three tight ends would limit the fullback's use. He did declare, though, that "Quinn will have a role in the offense." That might be 12-15 plays, max, and maybe not even that much on a weekly basis. Coming after Munchak declared earlier in the offseason the Titans would carry a traditional fullback, it sounds like one name can be written in ink, though I wouldn't quite throw the Wite-Out away yet.
What exactly it is about Quinn Johnson the Titans continue value I've never figured out. His initial acquisition, during Ahmard Hall's suspension, made sense, but that's as far as it went. His reacquisition off waivers and continued employment, including a re-signing this offseason for multiple years at above the league minimum salary, makes very little sense to me.
Johnson always looked pretty much replacement-level to me. When Hall replaced him after his return back in 2011, it was a clear upgrade at the position. QJ seems like a more natural fit for a man scheme, as he sometimes struggles to locate and identify his man in the zone plays the Titans primarily run, a trend that's continued from his Green Bay days. He barely touches the ball, a mere 8 times in 2012, so it's not his skills with the ball in his hands that leads the Titans to value him so. I guess they like his reliability on special teams, an absolute necessity from any fullback given his likely limited role on the offense.
If the Titans keep a fullback other than QJ, Collin Mooney seems to have the best shot at the job. I wondered in the offseason if the Titans saw Mooney as a fullback, a tailback, or a bit of both? Judging by Loggains' comments at his latest media session, it is in fact both. He seems to be getting reps at both TB and FB and is learning the protections for both positions, a task Loggains indicated he was smart enough to do well. And, yes, of course, he would have to play special teams. It was refreshing to see a back run as downhill as aggressively as he did on his carries in the season finale. I'm starting to wonder if he's less competition for QJ than vying to play a role similar to but somewhat different than the one Casey Cramer played in 2006, though even with an extra roster spot it's tough to find a way for that player to be active on gameday unless they're comfortable with him as the RB3 and looking for another blocker in that role. More likely, though, their affection for QJ precludes any roster spot for the former Army artillery officer.
The recently-signed Jackie Battle was a fullback at one point in the past, but that hasn't been his primary position lately. That may give him a slight bonus as the RB3 competition, but I think the Titans are much too interested in having a fullback in the offense to give the job to Battle over QJ or Mooney.
Since I can't figure out what the Titans like about him and yet they seem to like him, and given Loggains' comment indicates there's not even necessarily a battle for the position, I'll just continue to assume Quinn Johnson will continue to be around and do pretty much what he's done in the past. I absolutely wouldn't mind seeing them keep Mooney over him, though, or even, and I hate to mention the possibility, go without a fullback completely.