Niko Palazeti committed to Michigan State as a fullback on 2/1/2010. This may have been the end of an era for Michigan State's football program. I think Palazeti will be the last four year scholarship fullback to come through the Duffy Daughtery building.
Nothing against the kid, I'm sure he'll do a fine job in the Green and White and looked very good in relief of Todd Anderson in FAU-type garbage time this year. It's just, the Fullback is an endangered species in football in general. Oh sure, they've found niche roles in the biocommunity of college football on teams like Michigan State, but I think even now they're starting to disappear from these teams as well.
Why, might you ask?
I'm so glad you did, even though you didn't really. First and foremost, the game of football has changed significantly since the 70s and 80s. The responsibility of the fullback is two fold. First on a run play, they are supposed to get out and hit a linebacker to provide blocking for the running back. Second, on a pass play, they are responsible for doing one of two things, they can either block for the Quarterback OR they can slide out into the flat and act as the QB safety valve.
Interesting Note: The first offensive play of the Dantonio era was a play action pass to the fullback, Andrew Hawken.
Since the 70s and 80s, the pass coverage responsibilities of the Linebackers have increased substantially since the advent of the West Coast Offense. In the West Coast Offense, it was discovered that more than two dudes can try to catch a pass at one time. So linebackers have gotten faster and smaller. This presents a problem for guys who play the slower and bulkier fullback position as they're responsible for putting a hit on these guys in the run game.
In the pass game, the fullback can still pass block, but again with the smaller linebackers, running backs have been asked to do more in pass blocking and as it concerns running out into the flat to catch a safety valve pass for the QBs you'd want the quicker, faster running backs catching those passes as well.
None of the reasons listed above are the most important though, not for MSU anyway
MSU used this constantly in the MSU - Wisconsin Round 1 game.
MSU lines up in a single back, Two TE set. Linthicum lines up left of France.
Linthicum goes in motion, this at the very least does one thing for Cousins. It lets him know whether Linthicum is in man coverage or a zone if the linebacker tries to stay with him or not.
A couple times Linthicum went right back to where he started out and Cousins jumped with glee knowing whether he was looking at zone or man.
Much more often, Linthicum lined up in the fullback spot and now the Single Back Two TE set became a strong I formation with lots of run blocking for the running back. The nice thing is that as soon as Linthicum was set Cousins would snap. This was a really nice way to set up strong run blocking for the RB without tipping our hand run until the last possible moment.
Off Bell or Baker would go for a few yards.
This happened more often as the season wore on, but typically it was Anderson(the FB) "playing" TE. It typically happened in 3rd and short to 3rd and short-medium. Think between 3rd and 3 and 3rd and 5.
MSU starts out in the strong I.
Anderson motions left and lines up just behind Cunningham or whoever.
MSU managed to conceal their 4 WR look out of the huddle up until a moment or two prior to the snap. This forces the opposing defense to adjust prior to the play.
The QB drops back into the shotgun and now a 3rd and 4 has changed from the look of a strong run play into a strong pass play.
So What Does This Mean?
Dan Roushar runs a misdirection offense that relies on concealing the true intent of a play until seconds before the snap. One of the easiest ways to play with the look of a play is to move a TE into the fullback spot a second or two prior to the snap or to move a fullback into a WR spot seconds prior to the snap. The role of a traditional fullback has disappeared on any spread team and is even disappearing in a more traditional offense like MSU runs.
So for my own part, I wish Palazeti and any other fullback to come to MSU the best of luck at the position. I just found myself wondering if he would be the last four year scholarship recruit at the position. We'll see how much more time Roushar spends using this misdirection in 2012.