Column: Matt Eberflus' desire for physical play may be a good sign for Khari Blasingame, and the fullback's return to the Chicago Bears

You don’t have to listen long to Matt Eberflus to realize that he sold Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles and president George McCaskey on the idea of ​​building a strong, resilient football team.

Eberflus mentioned the wide receivers after Wednesday’s practice, and the first three things he cited were their energy, size and physical blocking on the perimeter.

He talked about the need for his cornerbacks to be skilled tacklers and joked, “There are no guests here.”

So it stands to reason that a manager who says, “We can’t live soft and play hard” would want a fullback in his squad. The Bears haven’t carried one full-time since the 2018 season.

Competing for a spot on the roster is Khari Blasingame, who spent the previous three seasons clearing the way for Derrick Henry with the Tennessee Titans. Blasingame is the only fullback on the 90-man training camp roster, but that doesn’t mean he won’t need to prove his worth to earn a spot. Basically, he’s fighting a potential extra tight end.

He has shown some versatility, making a lopsided catch deep in the bench Monday at Halas Hall. After two days of practices in full underwear, he has had a better chance to show the coaching staff how he can help running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert.

“That’s my real job,” Blasingame said. “Shorts and jerseys football, you are learning what you have to do. Now it gets a little more violent. Take a step forward.”

Blasingame, 6-foot-233, became a free agent when the Titans didn’t offer him as a restricted free agent. He played just 80 snaps in 11 games last season because a knee injury held him back, but now he’s healthy. He had a couple of options as a free agent, but discussions with Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy made the decision an easy one.

“This was the best option, by far,” he said. “He felt good from the first call. I had an idea of ​​what I wanted to do and this was a place where I could work and earn the job. The vision of him and just what he wanted from the offense, period, sounded good.”

Some offenses that use outside zone execution schemes have productive fullbacks. Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers and CJ Ham of the Minnesota Vikings are good examples from recent seasons. The Bears have watched video of both of them as they study what they want to do in their new offense.

Blasingame was valuable on special teams for the Titans, playing 45% of the snaps in that phase the past two seasons. He was drafted by Vanderbilt at safety and moved to linebacker before playing running back for three seasons, so he has the mentality of a defender.

The Bears used fullback Michael Burton sparingly in 2018, Matt Nagy’s first season, then removed the position from offense. Tight end JP Holtz occasionally appeared in the backfield, and Montgomery had success running behind Holtz on occasion in the 2019 season, particularly against the Los Angeles Chargers.

I-formation runs give the tail a road map of where to go. There is no dance. You go straight downhill and hit the hole, and that kind of physical approach can bring out Montgomery’s strength: his ability to run through contact with balance.

With unproven wide receivers, Getsy may choose to lean more heavily on two-tight ends or two-running backs, which would create opportunities for Blasingame.

The two-back game action is the best there is. If you don’t have a downhill hammer at fullback, and those guys are pretty much extinct, you’re looking to create a Juszczyk-type player who can block well enough at the point of attack and make an impact catching the ball. of the backfield. The fullback must be able to move off the field and be used on misdirection smuggling plays. Two backs give the offense more opportunities to swerve without having to use jet movement.

Blasingame knows he has to earn the trust of quarterback Justin Fields, and that starts with being in the right place at the right time, every time. Acrobatic catches on the field like the ones he had earlier this week will only help.

The fullback adds a physical element to the offense, and Eberflus can see the value of the position through the eyes of a defensive coordinator.

“When you can have a fullback or tight end that can play that position, that was always one of my questions at the beginning of the week defending guys, can (the tight end) play fullback?” he said. “Because it creates more gaps in the running game when you have that advantage there, and you certainly have to take that into account on defense.

“Are you going to play nickel? Are you going to play base? What are you going to do with those different groups of staff, 12 or 21, whatever? Yeah, it’s a huge advantage for the offense to have that guy.”

Blasingame remains hopeful for a chance to open up holes for the running backs and make some plays in the passing game.

“I love the way they work,” Blasingame said. “I love them as people off the field. It’s really cool when you can relate to your people. I really like going to work with these guys because they always bring energy. I just know that when it gets tough, they will be there.”

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