With offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s departure to the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach Mike McCarthy is now placing a firmer grip on the Cowboys’ offense. This will certainly lead to some schematic and philosophical changes, which was why McCarthy and Moore could no longer cohabitate in Dallas. Could one of those changes be the return of a true fullback?
It’s been a while since Dallas had a fullback on the 53-man roster. Jamize Olawale was the last one in 2019, which coincidentally was Moore’s first season as offensive coordinator. Before him the FB was a constant feature with Keith Smith,Tyler Clutts, Lawrence Vickers, Richie Anderson, and others manning the position. One of the most beloved figures in team history, Daryl “Moose” Johnston, was the gold standard for fullbacks in the 1990s.
While the Cowboys have flirted with prospects like Sewo Olonilua and Nick Ralston in recent training camps, none of them have ever made the team. They even signed a veteran in Ryan Nall last season but he missed camp with a shoulder injury and wound up being released. These efforts would indicate that there is still interest in having a fullback around here, but just not unless they find the right guy.
This would seem to be a stylistic preference that started with Moore’s ascension to OC. You will see the occasional use of a tight end of even a power back like Ezekiel Elliott doing the work of a traditional FB, but Dallas hasn’t felt the workload justified a dedicated roster spot unless they found the right player.
Will that change under Mike McCarthy’s increased offensive control? The fullback has always been an important figure in the West Coast scheme and McCarthy’s offenses with the Green Bay Packers didn’t shy away from them. John Kuhn was a household name during his Packers days and it was only when Aaron Ripkowski failed to adequately replace him that McCarthy started to do less with the position.
Of course, we are far removed from the era of football when players like Moose, Tom Rathman, and John Riggins felt like offensive cornerstones as fullbacks. But even decades later, you will still see a guy like the 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk who can make a significant impact from the position. It’s just about finding the right talent and scheming ways to make him productive.
McCarthy’s West Coast roots, the same which made Rathman a significant figure in San Francisco, would suggest that he has a deeper appreciation for fullbacks than some other coaches. It manifested in Green Bay with Kuhn and could find its way back into the Cowboys’ offense now that Moore’s gone.
With the 2023 NFL Draft and plenty of free agency activity still ahead of us, who knows if the Cowboys won’t try another experiment at fullback? They didn’t sign Ryan Nall until April 8th last season, clearly waiting until the later waves for a position that has generally decreased value in football’s modern era. But if fewer teams are now doing something, that can sometimes be a boon for your offense as defenses are less used to dealing with it.
As we project the Cowboys’ remaining offseason moves and their 2023 roster, don’t sleep on the fullback position. They have tried to find one over the last few years and could very well try again. If they finally hit on the right guy, perhaps the offense under Mike McCarthy will help restore some of the fullback’s past glory.