Has there ever been so much ink spilled on a position that played less than a third of the snaps last season?
The Bengals (and the Patriots for that matter) have no fullback on their roster going into Sunday's 1 p.m. opener in New England (Cincinnati's Channel 12). Although, tight end Dan Coats has been working as much there as he has at his other position these days.
And he says it is a lot easier being a fullback than a tight end with this stable of running backs.
"We're kind of whipped cream topping to them rather than just a need," said Coats before Monday's practice as he talked about playing fullback. "A lot of the technique is different, but I feel fullback is easier than tight end just because the way our running backs are. We've got so many that can make anybody miss in space. You really don't have to move people out of the way. You just have to occupy them for a minute so they can get around and make a huge play. It's a whole lot easier than trying to keep somebody on the line and move them out of the way."
The Bengals are still looking for fullbacks and they could add a veteran after the opener. But in lining up against the Patriots they do have a guy in Coats that played the entire 2008 season at the position and did it learning on the job. The backup tight end, Reggie Kelly, is also a veteran of blocking out of the backfield.
While the roster move was dictated by fullback Fui Vakapuna's season-ending shoulder injury, it also is another example of how the Bengals have moved away from the lead-blocking running game of Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson and are using more zone plays.
Plus, with one of quarterback Carson Palmer's new weapons a tight end in Jermaine Gresham and the Bengals committed to a run-first offense, the double tight end set has turned into more or less the base offense instead of the two-back set.
Now, unlike '08 when he played and practiced solely with the backs, Coats is rotating his practices between fullback and tight end. He says one day he could be with running backs coach Jim Anderson and the next with tight ends coach Jon Hayes.
"They've been telling me just to be flexible so if they want to game plan me either way, I'm ready to do whatever they ask," Coats said.
When it comes to the fans, Coats has been one of the more vilified Bengals because of his penchant for dropping balls and getting penalized. But there may not be a nicer guy or bigger effort player on the team and he provides some muscle in an area they need muscle. Coats may have been a cut on a lot of fans' lists, but the coaches showed their preference for blocking Saturday when they kept Coats and released receiving tight end Chase Coffman.
Coats, a father of three, literally doesn't have time to hear it or see projected rosters. On Saturday morning he didn't know if he had a job. But all he knew is that he had to get to a kid's soccer game "because your family has to live their lives," he said.
"That's what was said," Coats said of his impending release. "You have to (ignore it). People are going to have their opinion. I guess some people would like to have other people here. I feel like I belong here. I feel like I worked to get here."
In a tale of two bubble guys, Coffman admitted he was surprised when he was left off the 53-man roster Saturday. It ended up both were here Monday. But it was Coats on the 53 and Coffman on the practice squad. Coats, it is said, made it because he's the better blocker of the two. But Coffman, a year removed from his third-round selection, thought he showed what he could do in his first healthy training camp.
"I felt like I made huge strides from last year and did well," Coffman said. "And showed them that I can block and they can use me. Maybe late in the season. I don't know. We'll see."
Coffman also seemed surprised he didn't get claimed off waivers. As a member of the practice squad, any team can approach him at any time, but he would have to be placed on that team's 53-man roster if signed.
"Most teams have a third tight end as a blocking tight end," Coffman said. "Dan has done a good job here and done what they've asked him to do.
"I'm going to (continue) to focus on being more of a complete tight end and working on every aspect of my game. If somebody goes down here then hopefully I'll have a chance and if not, maybe it's somewhere else. But as of right now I'm here and I'm going to work as hard as I can for the Bengals."