FB James Bryant simply wants to open up holes for Lions' tailbacks

Posted May 16, 2012

The Lions signed free agent fullback James Bryant, a former arena football league player, BC Lions (Canadian Football League) practice squad participant and boxer earlier this offseason.

Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan doesn’t typically use a traditional fullback in his scheme and head coach Jim Schwartz called Bryant “one of those offseason projects” following his signing.

Jerome Felton was the last true fullback on the Lions’ roster, but was released during final cuts prior to last season. Reserve tight end Will Heller was used last year in a hybrid fullback/H-back role, which is a similar role the Lions might have in mind for Bryant.

Lions running backs coach Sam Gash discovered Bryant at Miami’s Pro Day in March after he was allowed to participate as a former Hurricane player.

“How do you use something you don’t have,” Bryant said when asked about the Lions’ propensity not to use traditional fullbacks in their offense. “That’s like saying I’m going to go drive to work, but I have no car to get there.

“Our running backs can run. We have guys who can see the hole and hit it. Now you have a guy who is in front of (them) who can create a bigger hole than what they’ve been hitting the last couple years.

“That’s all I want to do. I just want to come in here and block. Don’t throw me the ball. I don’t want to run the ball. I want to create holes.”

The fullback position in today’s NFL is more, though, as a multidimensional player who can not only block, but also catch the football out of the backfield and make an impact on special teams.

It might be tough for Bryant to make the final 53-man roster strictly as a blocking fullback. Maybe that’s what Schwartz meant when he said Bryant was an offseason project. He’s still improving on those other skills that could make him a more complete player.

For a brief time in-between stints playing football, Bryant picked up boxing and won his first three bouts before turning his focus back to football leading up to his Pro Day workout. He says playing fullback in the NFL is a lot like being in a boxing ring.

“It’s overwhelming and dominating an individual in order to get a win,” he said. “The goal is three yards, four yards, 15 yards, 20 yards and first downs in the fourth quarter.

“I correlate me playing football to being in the ring because there’s nobody else in the ring but you. When we run power offense, I see no one else. I see my read. I see that guy that steps in the hole and I will punish him.”

The Lions could be in the market for a player like Bryant based on last season’s success, or lack there of, on 3rd-and-short situations last year.

The Lions ranked 27th in the NFL last season in converting 3rd-and-short (1-3 yards) situations. They picked up a first down only 53.3 percent of the time when they ran on those occasions, ranking 29th in the league. Linehan called a pass play 37 times on 3rd-and-short last season, the fifth-most in the league. They picked up a first down 45.9 percent of those times.

Those numbers could be a reflection of running back Mikel Leshoure’s absence last season as well. Leshoure (6-0, 230) was drafted in the second round by the team last year to be a physical runner they'd lacked.

He was lost in training camp to a torn Achilles tendon, but is expected to be 100 percent when the regular season begins. Running back Jahvid Best also missed the last 10 regular season games because of a concussion.

But those numbers could also mean there's a role for a fullback on this roster.

Bryant, 26, is a physically gifted athlete at 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, and he obviously has the disposition to play certain aspects of the position.

Whether the Lions feel they need a traditional fullback - and whether they believe Bryant is the right man to fill that role - will be determined in the coming weeks and during training camp in August.

“There’s nothing like being on a team that knows nothing about you and you can just come here and be you,” Bryant said. “Be you and work.”