O'HARA: Burton has the 'fullback mentality' down pat

Posted May 10, 2015

Fullback Michael Burton would not complain if he never runs the ball in his rookie season with the Lions, as long as he fulfills the requirements of his job.

Michael Burton fits the prototype for the modern-era fullback. He has the height, weight – and mentality.

Burton would not complain if he never runs the ball in his rookie season with the Lions, as long as he fulfills the requirements of his job – helping clear the way for the running backs to gain yards.

Burton’s workload in his senior season at Rutgers wasn’t much different than what he can expect with the Lions, assuming he lives up to the expectations that caused the Lions to draft him in the fifth round. In the 2014 regular season, Burton was a blocker, not a runner. He had only one of the Scarlet Knights’ 489 carries in the regular season. It was for a two-yard gain.

Michael BurtonFB Michael Burton (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Burton isn’t bothered about not having the opportunity to show up on the highlight reels. If a fullback does his job, he’ll be appreciated in the film room by his teammates.

“A fullback’s mentality is smash-mouth football,” Burton said Saturday after the second day of the Lions’ rookie minicamp. “That’s what you’ve got to have, and that’s what I have. I love contact. I love being the guy that springs it open.

“I have more joy hitting a big block and taking the guy out and have my running back run 60-70 yards for a touchdown. I really love that.”

Burton talks like he was born with a fullback’s mentality, but he had to grow into the position physically. He played running back at West Morris Central High in New Jersey, setting numerous school records. As a senior he set the single-season rushing record with 1,769 yards and scored 20 rushing TDs.

Burton said he played running back at 195-200 pounds. He was a red shirt at Rutgers in 2010 and converted to fullback in spring ball in 2011. He steadily put on weight – “it was about 10 pounds ever year,” – and weighed in at the Combine in February at 242.

He did well in his Combine tests, running an official time of 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

The Lions have an opening for a fullback with the departure of Jed Collins to Dallas in free-agency. The only other fullback on the roster is Emil Igwenagu, a free agent signed by the Lions who played three games for the Eagles in the 2012-13 seasons.

The talent pool for fullbacks is the shallowest in the draft of any position except kicker and punter. Only five true fullbacks were drafted this year. Three were taken in each of the 2013 and 2014 drafts, according to NFLdraftscout.com, a respected site that tracks and rates prospects.

“Fullback is a dying position in college football, I think, with all the spread offenses, but this guy is very talented, very athletic,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said after Burton was drafted. “He catches the ball really well out of the backfield, can locate guys in space and block in space. So we liked him a lot.”

The most touches Burton had in a season at Rutgers was 28 in 2013 – 9 carries for 61 yards and 19 receptions for 141 yards.

Last year he matched his regular-season rushing total with one carry in Rutgers’ 40-21 victory over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on Dec. 26.

Burton’s one carry in that game came on a direct snap to him on a fake punt midway through the third quarter. Burton gained two yards on a fourth and one, for a first down at North Carolina’s 34-yard line. On the next play, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova threw a TD pass to extend Rutgers’ lead to 30-7.

“I got it (the first down) by like half a yard or so,” Burton said. “I kind of got hit and I just kept driving. I dove to get the first down.”

Burton was excited to get drafted by any team, and he especially liked what he heard from the Lions’ coaches about the way they use the fullback. Last year, Collins had eight carries for 19 yards and five catches 39 yards. Collins was used often in short yardage.

“It was awesome for two reasons,” Burton said of being drafted. “One, to get drafted was absolutely a dream come true. And two, to be drafted by a team that’s going to use me – that uses two-back schemes and stuff like that, that emphasizes the fullback not only in the run game but the passing game.”