While the Eagles backfield was subject to both meteoric rises and jittery falls during the 2016 season, Howie Roseman and company did everything they could to ensure the unit was in a prime situation to pounce next year. Donnel Pumphrey and LeGarrette Blount are the new kids on the block, bringing with them a burst of Sproles like explosiveness, and some durable short-yardage efficiency. However one position in particular has gone unaccounted for yet again, and it’s one that many expected Doug Pederson to utilize early and often…the fullback.
The Eagles experimented with varying combinations of fullbacks during the Summer last year. From Ryan Mueller, to former NDSU teammate of Carson Wentz, Andrew Bonnet, who bounced on and off the Eagles practice squad during the regular season, the Birds had plenty of options. However there were two names who remained on the tip of Doug Pederson’s tongue heading into his rookie year as a head coach. Trey Burton, and DT Beau Allen. The latter of which would get a taste of the offense in the week one win over Cleveland.
The 6’3, 327 lbs, defensive tackle played four snaps behind Carson Wentz, helping bully open a hole for Ryan Mathews to drive into the endzone on the game sealing one-yard touchdown. After that game however, the position was utilized extremely rarely by Doug Pederson. But nearly 12 months after an experimental Summer, it’s those same names on the lips of the Eagles Head Coach.
“Right now, it’s just kind of by committee.” Pederson said of the FB position when asked by the media ahead of the team’s final OTA practice. “[TE] Trey Burton has been in there and [T] Dillon Gordon has been in there, which we did last year in the preseason, if you remember. We’ve got a couple guys. [DT] Beau Allen was in there last year. So we’ll see where that goes.”
Burton was widely regarded to fill that role in the Eagles Offense last year, but with an injury to Zach Ertz, the former Florida Gator instead broke out as a pass-catching tight end, receiving for 327 yards and his first career touchdown. However, it’s not difficult to see why Pederson has again connected the dots to the fullback position.
During his time as a Florida Gator, Burton would play all across the offense, including spending a heavy amount of time at fullback. The tight end would end his collegiate career with 720 rushing yards, 976 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns. But there’s an even more interesting comparison that’s worth noting…and that’s to a fullback who has already proved himself under Pederson, Spencer Ware.
During Pederson’s time as Offensive Coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, it was Spencer Ware who played a crucial role in patching the huge hole left by an injured Jamaal Charles. The fullback would not only help tear open holes for Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, but go on to rush for 403 yards and 6 scores that season. Able to line up as a running back, fullback, or even split out into the slot alongside Travis Kelce, the versatility of Ware only strengthens his similarities to Burton. Physically, the two also have some interesting common ground.
Trey Burton: 6?3
Spencer Ware: 5?10
Trey Burton: 235 pounds
Spencer Ware: 228 pounds
Trey Burton 40-yard dash time: 4.50
Spencer Ware 40-yard dash time: 4.62
It’s a story Doug Pederson knows all too well, and with the Eagles bringing Burton back to the City of Brotherly Love and a healthy Zach Ertz at the helm, the Birds may finally be able to turn back to Burton in the hopes of resuming that role. It also fits the culture that is now embedded deep into the DNA of the players. Something Burton opened up to us about recently in an exclusive interview.
“One of my favorite things about Doug is one of his biggest mottos, “let your personality show”. You don’t hear coachessay that very often. They don’t want crazy things to happen. Doug used to say that all the time and everytime he would say that, to me personally it gave me peace. It would calm me down and let me be who I am, instead of being like a robot and trying to impress a coach who likes a tighter ship.”
Burton’s work-ethic and willigness to help wherever needed may just give the Eagles the flexibility at fullback that they’ve been craving. If it doesn’t however, there are still two contingency plans in place. The downside is that with Beau Allen’s pectoral injury keeping him sidelined for most of Training Camp, the Eagles don’t have a lot of room to breathe. Conversely, it opens up a huge platform for Dillon Gordon to shine during Training Camp.
An undrafted free agent last year out of LSU, Gordon Played in 42 games during his time with the Tigers, starting 28. The 6’5, 308 pound athlete joined the team as a tight end before making a jump into the trenches and competing for a spot along the offensive line. While the change in position was surprising, it may not be the last jump he makes.
Gordon’s specialty at LSU was run blocking. As a result, he was a large part of LSU’s continued run heavy offensive success and it’s easy to see why the Eagles decided to take a chance on him. With the committee backfield set to be reignited under Doug Pederson, especially after this offeseason, Gordon can contribute greatly in that area as a rotational player.
Impressively, Gordon helped open up the Eagles zonal rushing attack tremendously during preseason last year, showing his value and earning a spot on the practice squad. One year later, Gordon will be looking to prove his worth in the committee fullback effort that the Eagles are appearingly deciding to roll with.
Whether it’s Dillon Gordon, Trey Burton, or the physically dominant Beau Allen, the Eagles have an abundance of options at fullback. For a variety of reasons, the position simply went untapped in 2016, but with a new sense of offensive stability, it could well be time for Doug Pederson to unleash yet another level of his scheme, further helping Carson Wentz by adding even more value around him.
Competition is still the name of the game across the board, and fullback is no different. Both Burton and Gordon would have every incentive to fight for every snap given that their long-term future is uncertain, and with Beau Allen starting so many rungs down the ladder after his pectoral injury, missing out on some crucial practice reps, it’s going to be yet another free for all worth keeping an eye on in 2017, and one that could carry a lot of weight for the Eagles rushing attack.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports