For years, the Buffalo Bills have enlisted the services of a big, bruising fullback. We've seen good ones (Sam Gash) and we've seen some pretty bad ones (Daimon Shelton, in my humble opinion, was a waste of a roster spot). The 2007 season, however, marks the end of an era - the Bills will no longer be using a fullback in their running game. Instead, a "new" position has been implemented into Steve Fairchild's offense - the "halfback".
Try not to make the mistake of thinking that we'll see something drastically different out of our lead blocker position. Rather than lining up a fullback in our backfield, we'll use tight ends in an H-Back role. The personnel is different, the name of the position is different, but the demands of the position likely won't be drastically changed. They'll still lead our running back through holes. They'll still pick up the blitz. They'll still be lead blockers on special teams.
The only difference of note is versatility. Tight ends are, in general, more athletic than fullbacks (especially in Daimon Shelton's case). We now have players in our backfield who can do more - they're more athletic blockers, they're more athletic blitz pickups. But the true advantage gained is receiving ability (again, especially in comparison to Daimon Shelton). We may actually see some designed pass plays to our fullback, rather than the position being a black hole in the passing game.
88-Ryan Neufeld: Neufeld is the senior member of our tight ends and has struggled a bit with injuries the past two seasons. But the H-Back role is a position he has played well at before, and as of right now he has the inside track at the starting gig. He is a solid blocker (both offensively and on special teams), has good hands and has enough experience to be our best option there at this point. Barring a setback or a huge training camp from his competitors, the job is his.
80-Derek Schouman: The seventh-round pick out of Boise State has the potential to bring far more than Neufeld brings to the H-Back position. A smooth athlete with above-average hands, Schouman is the perfect fit for H-Back thanks to his less-than-elite tight end size (6'2", 233). Once he develops his very raw blocking skills, he could be a mainstay at this position for years - not to mention a difference-maker in this offense.
Rounding it out: Brad Cieslak. Once a leading candidate for this position, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to see Cieslak miss the final cut for this roster. He was undrafted for a reason, and his upside appears much more limited than Schouman's.
Like so many of the Bills' offensive moves this off-season, the newly implemented H-Back position brings yet another dimension of versatility to J.P. Losman's arsenal. We should not expect too much of an impact from the players at this position, but we'll definitely see more from them than we ever saw statistically from a fullback in Buffalo. This is an interesting experiment that deserves our close attention this season.