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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Going old school: How fullbacks will impact Vikings vs. 49ers

By Matthew Coller

For the first time in a decade, fullbacks were a topic of conversation leading into an NFL game.

At TCO Performance Center this week, the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff has answered multiple questions about how two fullbacks who could make an impact on this weekend’s opener. Yes, CJ Ham and Kyle Juszczyk are being spotlighted as a significant part of the Vikings-49ers matchup.

Somewhere Jim Kleinsasser is beaming.

Last year only four fullbacks were on the field for more than 125 snaps and two of them will match up in Sunday’s game at US Bank Stadium. Juszczyk led the NFL in snaps by a fullback with 210 and Ham was on the field for 133 offensive plays under Pat Shurmur.

The NFL at large was somewhat stunned when Juszczyk scored a four-year, $21 million contract with the 49ers prior to last season, but he’s was a key part of Kyle Shanahan’s gameplan, catching 33 passes for 315 yards last season.

“They obviously found a really good one who has been to two Pro Bowls now,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think he’s a good blocker, he’s a good receiver, he lines up all different places, so the versatility for that spot, instead of just being a pound it up in there and run leads on linebackers, that’s the biggest thing.”

According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers lined up Juszczyk 27 times in the slot, 17 times as a wide receiver and 20 times at a tight end position.

Ham was also moved around quite a bit, lining up 15 in the slot, seven as a wide receiver, 20 as a tight end.

CJ Ham is one of the most diligent football players I’ve ever coached,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “Not only is he smart, athletic, bright, he takes a lot of pride in his job and there’s a reason why he’s performing well. I kind of try and surprise him each day on the script putting him somewhere else and see if I can catch him without him preparing and I never do. He always comes up and asks, ‘Hey, how do you want this? How do you want this?’… He’s a guy we’re continuing to watch and grow and have a role in this offense. I’ve been very, very, very impressed with CJ.”

Defensive coordinator George Edwards added that San Francisco will not only line Juszczyk up in different spots, but also move him around pre-snap in order to gain mismatches or get coverage indicators from the defense.

“He can be the only back in the backfield, you can see him out at the number one receiver, the number two receiver, see him in motion, on a shift,” Edwards said. “He’s got a lot of different jobs and does very well at all of them. He’s good at blocking, he’s good at receiving, and he’s good at block protections, so he is a new dimension for them. It should be good, with us having to work all those shifts and motions [in practice]. It makes you work and kind of makes you think to the adjustments.”

One of the other advantages a solid fullback gives an offense is that it can force the defense to use more linebackers out of concern for stopping the run game. How the Vikings match up against the 49ers’ versatile fullback will be worth watching. Will they use Ben Gedeon in a high percentage of snaps from a 4-3 package or will Zimmer use George Iloka on the field at the same time as Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo?

Most teams are using nickel packages with at least five defensive backs around 70 percent of the time. So one of Shanahan’s goals is to force the defense to react to his personnel grouping.

“When you go back to the run and shoot, all of a sudden you have all defensive backs on the field and one linebacker,” Edwards said. “Then all of a sudden the trend goes to people reducing it and trying to run the football. It just goes with the trend and philosophy of what you play from week to week.”

Years ago there would have been players like Juszczyk abound in the NFL. Now they are a rarity. Could his success lead to the return of the fullback?

“I don’t know if there is a resurgence, fullbacks are hard to find,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “If you don’t have one it makes it more difficult.”

The Vikings and 49ers have both found themselves good ones.

The post Going old school: How fullbacks will impact Vikings vs. 49ers appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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