Commentary

Like most FBs, Hall labors in shadows

Originally Published: December 4, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Long before Ahmard Hall became the blocking escort for NFL leading rusher Chris Johnson, the Tennessee Titans' fullback epitomized a man who was more concerned about the accomplishments of others than with his own achievements.

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  • A fourth-year NFL veteran, Hall, 30, served four years in the Marines, with tours of duty as a sergeant in Kosovo and Afghanistan, before resuming his football career as a walk-on at Texas in 2004. He secured a spot on the Longhorns' roster by writing a letter to Mack Brown, and the Texas head coach was so impressed by the impassioned missive that he waived a school rule stipulating that walk-on candidates had to have played organized football within the past 24 months. Hall signed with the Titans as a free agent after no team selected him in the 2006 supplemental draft.

    So he knows a thing or two about playing second fiddle -- actually, third fiddle with the Titans because even backup tailback LenDale White is better known.

    Which makes Hall a terrific fit as a fullback. "It really is a selfless position," Hall said. "The way the position is structured now, you're kind of an extension of the offensive line, a guard who just happens to wear [a back's uniform number] and to be lined up in the backfield. But that's OK with me. I'm just happy to be playing."

    Hall, 5-foot-11 and 242 pounds, is indicative of the group of men playing fullback in the NFL. Not too long ago, the position had devolved to the point that some felt it might become defunct, especially with the propensity for three-wideout formations. Even now there are four teams in the league (including the undefeated Indianapolis Colts) without a nominal fullback on the roster. Fullbacks mostly serve as blockers.

    "Outside our locker room, he's probably unknown," said Johnson, on pace to become just the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. "But he's a great bodyguard, and we appreciate him."

    Nine starting fullbacks have zero rushing attempts this season. Hall has just one carry this season and 17 rushes in nearly four full seasons. Even in an era when fullbacks are expected to be good receivers, there are 21 starters with 12 or fewer touches this season.

    Said Hall, who has eight receptions in 2009: "You've got to be the kind of person who still succeeds without a lot of pats on the back. I kind of get some degree of vicarious satisfaction when [Johnson] puts up big numbers."

    Hall has long admired the work of veteran fullbacks such as Mack Strong and Lorenzo Neal. Many of his contemporaries -- such as Ovie Mughelli (Atlanta), Terrelle Smith (Detroit), Vonta Leach (Houston), Lousaka Polite (Miami), Greg Jones (Jacksonville), Madison Hedgecock (New York Giants), Tony Richardson (New York Jets), Mike Karney (St. Louis) and Mike Sellers (Washington) -- have become standouts at the thankless position.

    [+] EnlargeAhmard Hall
    Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesAhmard Hall (45) helps pave the way for NFL leading rusher Chris Johnson, who's on pace to rush for 2,031 yards.
    Most fullbacks log only about 25-40 percent of the snaps in a game, but there is no understating their importance. Or the punishment they dish out and receive.

    "It's sort of like getting a head start and then running into a wall," Hedgecock recently said. Hall described it as "a car wreck 25 or 30 times in the same day." The retired Strong termed the fullback spot "a handful of Excedrin" position.

    Although Hall considers himself very good in pass protection, as well, the bottom line for him is usually Johnson's statistical line, which includes six straight outings of 125 yards or more, including a 228-yard performance against Jacksonville on Nov. 1. The two men review lots of videotape together, especially on Saturdays, and often conjure up ways to block linebackers and conspire on what angles to take on certain plays.

    "If CJ is having a good game, I'm usually having a good game, too, and that's really enough for me," Hall said.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.