LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears fullback Tyler Clutts watched all offseason as the next evolution of the offense implemented more plays involving tight ends as lead blockers, leaving him to wonder how he’d separate from the pack to earn a roster spot.
Clutts came into camp knowing he’d be on the bubble, but he’s also aware there’s a team -- perhaps the Bears -- that appreciates the fullback position, and could use his services.
“Coming into camp, I knew as a fullback I was gonna have to distinguish myself as a physical blocker, someone that can pound out the tough yards, help Matt (Forte) pound out the tough yards,” Clutts said. “For me, I think short yardage and some first-down runs are really what I feel like I can (do to) separate myself from other blocking tight ends blocking in the backfield.”
Having bounced around in the CFL with Edmonton, the UFL with the Sacramento Mountain Lions, and the Arena League, Clutts in 2010 finally earned a spot on the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns. Clutts spent two weeks with Cleveland that year, in addition to the preseason of 2011 before the Bears snatched him up off the Browns’ practice squad.
Clutts played all 16 games in 2011 with the Bears (eight starts), catching eight passes for 48 yards in addition to clearing the way as the lead blocker on several of Forte’s runs. The second-year veteran also took over long snapping in Week 11 when Patrick Mannelly suffered a knee injury.
customary fullback spot on running plays. Nobody truly knows what that means for Clutts, but his inactivity from the fullback spot is telling.
Asked whether he feels he can perform as well as the tight ends the team has using in his place this preseason, Clutts said, “I do.”
“But they’ve been doing a job. I can’t say that they’ve done a bad job,” he said. “For me, it’s just something I feel I’m a little bit more comfortable with. They haven’t been doing it much. This is kind of new to them. They’ve done a good job adjusting to it. But I’m always gonna feel that I’m an efficient blocker from the backfield.”
Clutts also considers himself somewhat of a momentum builder as the lead blocker for the running backs. By smashing into the line and crushing a gap-fitting linebacker in the hole, Clutts knows such plays, while widely unnoticed, go a long way toward establishing a level of physicality at the point of attack that the offense can feed on throughout a game.
Look no further than the team’s 34-29 win in Week 4 last season over the Carolina Panthers. In that game, the Bears threw just 17 passes, in part, because Clutts cleared the holes sufficiently enough for Forte to bounce back from a career-low 2 yards rushing the week before, to a career-high 205 yards.
With Clutts providing many of the lead blocks, the Bears averaged 7.2 yards in that victory, which snapped a two-game skid.
“Something I feel like I add is that I can get the physical momentum going,” Clutts said. “Last year when we played Carolina (proved) if you can establish that point of attack, you really can get the defense on their heels. Then it opens up the rest of your game.”
What’s closing, however, seems to be the window of opportunity for Clutts with the Bears and fullbacks around the league in general. Clutts admits as much, but isn’t overly concerned. Somebody somewhere might be interested if Clutts fails to win a job in Chicago.
“I came into camp knowing it was gonna be a battle. But I’m not really stressing about it because it’s out of my hands,” Clutts said. “What I’ve put on film and what I’ve done so far at camp, hopefully it’s been enough to get myself a job here. Yeah, (fullbacks are) becoming more of a rare commodity. But there are still teams that use them quite a bit. Football makes its cycles. Hopefully, the fullback position comes back.”