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Fullbacks Make A Return With Cardinals

Fullbacks Derrick Coleman (left) and Elijhaa Penny work during a recent OTA.
Fullbacks Derrick Coleman (left) and Elijhaa Penny work during a recent OTA.

The Cardinals haven’t had a fullback in a number of years, and in some ways, they still will not if the guys playing the position get a say.

“A fullback, you think of the old school, traditional fullback, you know?” said Elijhaa Penny, noting the neck rolls of yesteryear. “I don’t like that.”

Veteran Derrick Coleman was signed specifically as a fullback and has played there for both the Seahawks and Falcons, yet “I don’t like to think of it that way,” he said.

“I just go out and play football,” Coleman said. “It’s the running backs as a group. I’m just considered a running back that paves the way for the whole group, from special teams to offense. I just want to make the team better.”

One of the first things Bruce Arians announced in 2013 was that he didn’t like the fullback position and the Cardinals would not use one (although there were times when a second “running back” was in the backfield, including using a tight end or offensive or defensive lineman, as a lead blocker.)

When Steve Wilks hired Mike McCoy to be his offensive coordinator, the fullback’s return was all but guaranteed.

“Within our system, the things we do, a fullback is part of that offense and has been a part of that offense for a while with McCoy,” Wilks said.

Running back David Johnson, the 2016 MVP candidate who is expected to return to those levels after breaking his wrist early last season, said it makes his reads easier to have a blocker right in front of him to pick up a free defender. But he noted the use of tight ends in that role under Arians and added that he doesn’t think it’ll be much different from his perspective.

“It’s always nice to have more blockers in front of you,” Johnson said.

That’s the first thing that comes to mind with the fullback – blocking. It’s also the thing the current fullbacks would rather not be pigeon-holed as being.

Coleman said his biggest strength is his versatility, the ability to play fullback yet see the field like Johnson does as a running back (Coleman was a running back in college at UCLA.) As an aside, Coleman also stresses his love of playing special teams.

Penny, who made Arians’ last squad as the bigger running back, wants to be seen as a hybrid, and he is still officially listed as a running back on the roster.

“Fullback is what it is called in our system, so we are fullbacks,” Penny said. “But I guess the advantage is that we are athletic. … I just know I am taking fullback reps. I don’t know about being a running back on the roster. I know I’m still paying attention to the running back stuff in the meetings.”

It’s not just about plowing into the line, Penny added. He is lining up in the slot at times, lining up out wide, and doing other “running back stuff.”

“The game has gotten faster since (Former Cardinal Ron) Wolfley played, so the more athletic and agile you are, the more of a bonus it is for you,” Penny said.

So maybe Penny won’t be a running back anymore. But fullback? Linebacker Chandler Jones suggested he be called a Wholeback.

Wholeback?

“Because I can do a whole lot of things,” Penny said with a smile.

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