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Camp Countdown: Fullbacks

Posted Jul 25, 2009

Hoover
Brad Hoover during OTAs. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)


CHARLOTTE -- Everyone who tunes into an NFL game has their reasons for doing so. There's loyalty to a team. There's wanting to see how players fare for fantasy-football purposes. And there's the simplest reason of all -- a desire to settle down, relax and be entertained for a few hours.

None of those drew Tony Fiammetta to a flat screen. Unlike virtually every other fan, all Fiammetta wanted to see from his easy chair in upstate New York was the fullbacks.

"That's all I would watch," he said. "Teams that didn't have fullbacks, I didn't really watch their games. I was studying everything I could and trying to get a leg up."

All the off-field studying and on-field performance that Fiammetta could do wasn't going to help make him a first-round selection; fullback is not a position that historically merits a pick atop a draft class. But it could ensure that he would at least be drafted, which came to pass when the Panthers selected him the fourth round last April.

Fiammetta

Rookie Tony Fiammetta during OTAs. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)


The selection of a fullback draws notice because of its relative infrequency; it is similar to when a team selects a punter or placekicker. It is a pick worth highlighting, just as the Panthers were for Fiammetta when he scanned for an NFL game worth watching.

The reason? Brad Hoover.

"I've admired him for years," Fiammetta said. "I notice his consistency and his professionalism. It just seems like every play matters to him.

"If I can get to that level one day, that would be exciting."

But Hoover's ascension to his current level was a decade in the making, winding through a rookie stint at running back, a coaching change after his second season and a succession of running backs following his blocks.

Last year, Hoover and the runners behind him clicked as they never had before, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart helping the Panthers to the franchise's best rushing season. That included the club's two best games on the ground: a 264-yard day against Detroit and a 299-yard masterpiece 22 days later against Tampa Bay.

Williams and Stewart made the Panthers the only team in the last 50 years with a 2,000-yard running back duo comprised of two men who each had at least 10 touchdowns and 800 yards. That's something of a dream situation for a fullback, something that Hoover knows and Fiammetta would like to learn.

"I know that the offense is going to establish the run game with those two guys. As a fullback, that's what you want to see," Fiammetta said. "You want to get out there in front of great backs, block for them and make plays happen."

But before Fiammetta can do that, he'll have to learn from Hoover, the man he watched so intently from afar in recent years.