TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The football world is several years removed the glory days of Mike Alstott, Lorenzo Neal and John Riggins – fullbacks who loved to barrel through defenses in short-yardage situations.
Many modern offenses, particularly in college football, don’t even use a fullback, opting instead for an extra receiver or tight end.
But that won’t be the case at Florida State.
Speaking as part of Seminole Boosters’ weekly “Football Fix” webinar on Thursday afternoon, FSU offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said that the fullback will be an important part of what Florida State does on offense under head coach Mike Norvell.
How important? Norvell personally coaches the position himself.
“He only coaches one position on the team,” Dillingham said. “And it’s the fullback.”
“The fullback position is so vital,” Dillingham continued. “How we use it on the goal line and on third-and-short, the specific fullback position, Coach Norvell takes pride.”
During Norvell’s four-year tenure at Memphis, the Tigers scored 136 touchdowns on the ground, including 48 in 2018 (second-most in the nation).
Who exactly will play the fullback role at Florida State is not yet certain. The Seminoles don’t officially have a fullback designated on their roster, although they have a handful of tight ends and running backs who could give it a try.
Norvell’s history at Memphis suggests he could look to the other side of his depth chart, too.
Dillingham on Thursday mentioned that the Tigers had a starting defensive lineman who would pull double-duty as a fullback when the situation called for it.
That would be 6-foot, 275-pound John Dorceus. Dorceus was used primarily as a blocker, but also had two career receptions.
“That is Coach’s position,” Dillingham said. “The fullback is essential. And that’s Coach’s baby.”
Fuller: Finishing plays a matter of evaluation, confidence: It was often a frustrating sight for Florida State fans in 2019 – a Seminole defender, seemingly in position to make a tackle or force a turnover, missing an opportunity that led to a big play for the opposition.
FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller was asked a simple question with somewhat of a complex answer: How do you teach players to finish plays?
“That’s a good question,” he said. “… I really think it is putting the right people in the right position.”
It’s the coaching staff’s job, Fuller said, to determine the skillset of each player and then put them in proper position to maximize that skillset. It’s not fair to ask a player to do something outside of his range, particularly if he’d be better suited for something else.
“There are some guys that naturally do things better than others,” Fuller said. “I think part of that evaluation process is putting people in those situations the most.
“And then you’re constantly coaching not only the technique, but the confidence, the mindset to be able to respond to success and failure within those positions. Because, you know, DBs are put on islands and it does come down to some one-on-one plays. Are we going to make all of them? No. We’ve just got to make most of them.”
Papuchis has mixed feelings on XFL kickoffs: The latest iteration of the XFL suspended operations earlier this month and seems unlikely to resume. But if the alternative league is finished, it will have at least left one lasting legacy – a potential change to kickoff rules that seems both reasonable and plausible.
Kickoffs in both college and professional football have come under scrutiny in recent years as the sport’s governing bodies debate ways to potentially make the game safer.
The XFL offered a solution designed to reduce high-speed collisions. The kicking team would kick from its 30-yard line, with each of the receiving team’s 10 blockers lined up at the 35 – only five yards away.
The kicker and returner were the only players on either side allowed to move before the ball was caught.
The change was lauded by many fans and reporters, with some national outlets even calling for it to be adopted at every level of football.
FSU special teams coordinator John Papuchis, though, isn’t so sure.
“I’m a football traditionalist,” Papuchis said. “So, I don’t like big rule changes like that. I think it minimizes, a little bit, the impact that you can have on special teams”
That doesn’t mean Papuchis thought it was all bad. He appreciated that the XFL didn’t eliminate kickoffs altogether, and applauded the league’s effort to come up with a safe solution.
For now, though, he prefers the old-fashioned way of kicking and receiving the ball.
“I thought it was creative and innovative,” Papuchis said, “but I’m kind of glad that we’re sticking to what we’re doing right now.”
Special teams have long been a priority for Norvell’s teams. In four years at Memphis, the Tigers scored 11 touchdowns via kickoff returns – the most of any program in the country over that span.
Assistants share their pleasant surprises: Each of the three coaches on Thursday’s webinar finished their session by answering a simple question: “What’s been your most pleasant surprise since coming to Florida State?”
Here are their answers:
Kenny Dillingham: “Tallahassee. The city as a whole, the people and the fan base. Coach ‘JP’ (Papuchis) and I went to get dinner one night, and 10, 15 people come up to us and said, ‘We’re rooting for you.’
“The fact that everybody is tuned in to what we’re trying to get accomplished, everybody understands what the standard is here. And everybody is rooting for us. I think that’s something that’s underappreciated in college sports, is when you have people that are actually rooting for you to be successful. I think the fan base here is a fan base that wants to see us succeed. They want to root and cheer for the good things – not the negative. I think that’s something that’s special here.”
Adam Fuller: “My family, we love the neighborhood we moved into. We haven’t had the chance to meet many neighbors, but Tallahassee has been great.
“And, honestly, just getting to know the history of Florida State. I know it’s our job to build on it. But I’m a true believer that you don’t know what you’re building on unless you understand it. Whether it’s working with Odell Haggins day to day or getting a chance to develop a relationship with coach (Mickey) Andrews, that opportunity, coach (Bobby) Bowden, reading the books about the history here. That has been one of the things over the last months or so, I’ve really educated myself on the past and the history here. That’s been really exciting.”
John Papuchis: “My most pleasant surprise has been the actual staff. I didn’t know any of these guys when I came to Florida State the first week of January. And having the opportunity to get to know them, see the type of men they are, the type of husbands and fathers and quality football coaches, it feels like I’ve known them my whole life.
“So, to me, this has been a wonderful opportunity and great experience the last couple months.”