NFC South: Kyle Johnson
One of the great, on-going stories I’ve had the pleasure of covering in my time reporting on the NFL is that of Carolina fullback Brad Hoover.
Seems like only yesterday, but it was 2000, he came out of nowhere (undrafted out of Western Carolina) to make the roster. And he’s stayed and stayed and he’s carved out a very nice career. Seems like every time the Panthers tried to replace him (remember the drafting of Kyle Johnson and Casey Moore?), Hoover just did his thing and held on to his job.
But, sadly, I’m starting to think the end may be near for Hoover. It’s tough to believe, but he’s 32 and his body is starting to wear down. He has a high-ankle sprain right now that’s likely to keep him out for several weeks, and it seems like he’s been banged up all season.
It’s actually more of a surprise that Hoover has lasted this long. This guy has taken a pounding as a lead blocker through the years and often has had to handle extra practice time because there have been some years where he was Carolina’s only true fullback.
The Panthers drafted Anthony Fiammetta this year and he’s the heir apparent to Hoover. But Fiammetta’s also banged up right now and missed practice Wednesday because of a concussion. The Panthers may have to go into Sunday’s game against New Orleans using some of their tight ends as fullbacks.
Hoover will return at some point later this season, but it’s pretty clear the end is getting near. I wouldn’t be surprised if he retires after the season and a quiet decade of excellence at the fullback position.
I remember when Hoover first made Carolina's roster as an undrafted rookie out of Western Carolina. Now, I see Hoover is 33.
The Panthers drafted Anthony Fiammetta in the fourth round this year and he suddenly becomes the heir apparent to Hoover. But you know what? The Panthers have been drafting heir apparent to Hoover for most of this decade and they still haven't been able to get the guy off the field. Remember Kyle Johnson and Casey Moore? I think there were a couple other fullbacks brought in at different points, but I can't even remember their names.
That's because Hoover was so good at doing all the little things that nobody ever could gain any ground on him. He's been a favorite of the coaching staff and of every running back who ever has run behind him because the guy is just solid all the way around and he's a great locker-room guy.
That said, the Panthers have used Hoover heavily. In recent years, they went with Nick Goings, who was more of a tailback, as his backup and Hoover had a huge work load in practices and games. That's got to take a toll on a body.
Fiammetta could be the eventual replacement for Hoover, but I don't see the change coming right away. As long as Hoover's body holds up, he's going to be the guy the Panthers want out there.