Perhaps more than any other position, the fullback has morphed and evolved its role on the field. Gone are the days of the rushing fullback who would get the most carries on his team—like one of Paul Brown's favorite players, the great Marion Motley. Also gone—at least for now—is the pass-catching fullback like Bill Walsh's Tom Rathman (the elusively defined h-back is currently in vogue, but these prototypes are more more of a tight end than a fullback). In fact, many teams ignore the fullback altogether these days, employing one on the roster but only using him for goal-line and short-yardage plays, if even then, and very rarely giving him the ball.
The Bengals, under Marvin Lewis, have always kept a fullback in their offense a good amount of the time. For years, Jeremi Johnson was that man, repeatedly slugging linebackers out of the way for Bengal ball-carriers and occasionally catching a pass or two. Then he injured his knee in the 2008 training camp and battled weight issues in the '09 camp. This offseason, no interest was shown by either side in having him come back for 2010, and he is now out of the game.
Here instead is Fui Vakapuna.
Fui is a stocky, yet athletic guy who the Bengals drafted in the seventh-round in 2009. At BYU, he rushed for 1,181 yards and for 14 touchdowns, and was MVP on his national championship rugby team in high school. He didn't make the cut last training camp with the Bengals, but returned to Cincinnati for the second half of last season after spending the first half with Arizona. He has not played in a regular-season NFL game.
But have no fear, fellow Bengal fan. Jeremi Johnson was a fearless blocker who played hard, but he reached the end of his rope. The Bengals saw potential in Fui from day one and remain interested in that potential. Cincinnati running backs coach, Jim Anderson, has brought along other modern fullbacks like Nick Luchey and JJ himself, so there is no reason to think he can't do the same with Vakapuna. Fui's first priority is blocking, of course, but if he should squirt out into the flat and find himself alone, it seems likely that he would become a more viable receiver than Johnson ever was. Vakapuna is almost certainly this year's fullback with little competition in camp, so the fans can all get used to saying "Fooooooweeeee" whenever his name is called, which shouldn't be often.
As for that limited competition, there is person named Joe Tronzo listed on the roster as a fullback. Tronzo is a Louisville native who played his college ball there, and is described as a "durable blocker" by Bengals.com. The only interesting thing of note about Joe is that he was a four-time power lifting national champion in high-school, which could mean he's strong, I dunno. It doesn't matter really because once the games start to count, I think Tronzo will be gonzo.
If the Bengals stick with the power-run philosophy as their offensive persona, then an effective blocking fullback becomes a necessary ingredient to that mix. They have the big receivers, a quality line, and the king of all blocking tight ends, Reggie Kelly, already in place. Fui is line to become the last piece to the machine that is the Bengals power offense. Even if they are a dying breed elsewhere around the league, there is still a home for the fullback in Cincinnati.
Mojokong—I wonder if fullbacks have lots more bones in their neck and skull for extra impact support—like big-horn rams have.