April 22, 2010
Austin Sylvester and the other UW fullbacks had a chance to dine with Mack Strong.
The long-time Seahawks' fullback and current FSN Northwest broadcaster was able to share his expertise on the position, and gathered the group around to impart his wisdom. His message was simple: gain complete mastery of the playbook. Know every assignment. Understand how to read defenses and make adjustments. It's not quite as easy as see defender, block defender.
"You're a skilled lineman," Sylvester said. "There's not much glory in it. But it's crucial to the point of attack."
Spread offenses around college football have weakened the impact the fullback has on the game, but not at Washington. Coach Steve Sarkisian directs a pro-style system that dictates every position is a possible weapon. At his previous stop with USC, the L.A. school was known for utilizing fullbacks. With an emphasis during Spring Practice directed towards power football, the Huskies plan on utilizing the fullback in a variety of ways.
Right now, there's a competition among the group to see who can fill the gap Paul Homer left. The Nebraska native left an imprint as one of the more physical fullbacks on the West Coast, capable of erasing a blitzing linebacker and clearing holes for Chris Polk. According to offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, there still isn't a candidate who has emerged from the pack.
"I think they're all doing a nice job right now," Nussmeier said. "It's really a toss-up right now. There's great competition. But they need to continue to push each other."
Sylvester is one of those in the mix. The senior took his cues from Homer, particularly in how he prepares. Homer would arrive to practice early, pull out the sled and drive his shoulder into the padding for 20-30 minutes. The warm up put Homer into the right frame of mind to practice, prepping his mind to clash with a frothing defender.
"What made (Paul) such a great fullback was that he knew every situation on the field," Sylvester said. "He never panicked. He was always sound in his technique. He taught me that's an everyday thing."
A recent variable has been the addition of Demitrius Bronson, who has taken reps at fullback in recent practices. The sophomore originally signed at UW as a tailback, but the coaches wanted to see how his athleticism would project as a fullback. During practice on Tuesday at the Dempsey Indoor, Bronson showcased his speed with a couple of solid runs on short handoffs. The coaching staff was quick to mention, though, that while Bronson can make an impact at the position, he still needs reps to accelerate the learning curve.
"A lot of great fullbacks have come from the tailback slot," Nussmeier said. "We think he gives us a little more athleticism at the position."
Another intriguing name this spring has been Dorson Boyce. The New York City native has received plaudits from Sarkisian for his play at the position, particularly for his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
For each candidate, the primary objective is still bulldozing running lanes for the tailbacks, a position that could be one of the deepest in the Pac-10 given how well freshmen Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper have played this spring. This is also why Sylvester said he believes there will always be a need for fullbacks. He pointed to Stanford's style of offense with former tailback Toby Gerhart, which was to pound teams into submission with basic formations.
"That is what's great about our backfield; they each bring something different to the table," Sylvester said. "We can mix and match based on defenses and the gameplan. It's a great feeling that we can run power, run pass plays, pitch it out wide, and be successful."