Second-year fullback John Conner made a big splash last season in training camp, his crushing hits highlighted by HBO's Hard Knocks. He was used extensively on special teams, namely the kick return unit. He saw limited duty from the fullback position, and in mop-up duty the last game of the regular season against the Bills he showed that he can tote the rock too, racking up 44 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
Last season was a great opportunity for Conner to soak up as much information as possible from one of the best fullbacks to play the game, future Hall of Famer Tony Richardson. Now, as the specter of the NFL Lockout seems to be fading and we get closer to training camp, Conner prepares to take over as the starting fullback.
Fullback is not a glory position, but Conner should be able to create a few highlights. Richardson will be missed for his experience and leadership abilities, but Conner makes up for what he lacks in experience with size (5-11, 245) and power. He makes great initial contact when he makes a block, and if he can work on maintaining that contact he could have a career similar to Richardson's.
One thing we did not see much of from Conner is how well he catches the ball out of the backfield. He had two receptions for nine yards in 2010. This was not necessarily a product of a lack of receiving skills, but more that he was behind Richardson and fullbacks are not used that extensively in the receiving department in today's NFL.
As the season wore on we saw less two-back sets, mainly due to Santonio Holmes returning from suspension. We also saw Conner's playing time dip, with the exception of the regular season finale against Buffalo.
How will Conner be used in 2011?
It's a safe bet that much like Mike Westhoff's "Terminator Trap" from the HBO clip, there will be some plays designed to set up Conner to crush someone in the offesnive gameplan. He is a special talent at fullback, and it's not often fullbacks have plays designed by them. Conner is favorite of the coaching staff already, and we should expect to see plenty of him around the goal line and in short yardage situations – he's the kind of guy that can create a hole for Shonn Greene or LaDainian Tomlinson by putting his head down and blasting through.
I wouldn't expect a whole lot from him in the receiving game or rushing – it's just the nature of the position in Schottenheimer's offense. Still, he will have a major impact on the running game as an extension of the offensive line. Even though he won't be carrying the ball much, I still think he will be a player that fans will notice this year.
He has big shoes to fill, but Conner seems well-equipped. Hopefully he learned a lot from Richardson last season, as he can make a difference from the fullback position.
It's not often you get excited about a fullback, but I'm pumped to see Conner crush some linebackers this seaosn and open up rushing lanes. If he can live up to expectations, the Jets rushing attack could be devastating.
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