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The 5 O’Clock Club: Could we see the Redskins adopt an “old school” run game soon?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

The Redskins made an...interesting...roster move this week. They signed a fullback to the 53 man roster. This is a team that hasn’t had a fullback since Jay Gruden cut loose the popular and productive Darrel Young in 2015, a roster move I didn’t like much.

The new guy is Michael Burton, a 6ft, 240 pound, 27 yrs old player who was drafted 5th round by Lions in 2015.

Here are a few facts about Burton:

  • 31 games with Lions (2015-16)
  • 16 games with Bears (2017)
  • 8 games with Bears (2018)

Career stats:

  • Rushing yards: 11
  • Rushing average: 1.4
  • Rushing touchdowns: 0
  • Receptions: 9
  • Receiving yards: 53
  • Receiving touchdowns: 1

Burton was released by the Lions when Matt Patricia took over as head coach, bringing with him a multitude of changes. Today, the Lions don’t employ a fullback.

Likewise, a change at the Head Coach position in Chicago last year may have spelled the end for Burton. Matt Nagy does not have a fullback on the roster at the moment.

This season, change at the head coaching position in Washington may have created an opportunity for the fullback. Jay Gruden didn’t use a full-time fullback; it appears that interim head coach Bill Callahan just might.

The former offensive line coach, Callahan, has made it clear that he wants the Redskins to have an “identity” as a running team. Adding a fullback to the roster may be part of his formula for doing that.

Of course, finding a fullback in the NFL these days is difficult. Bringing in a guy with enough experience to contribute to an offense in Week 7 can be truly challenging, but Michael Burton has seen the field quite a bit, and should be able to contribute on both offense and special teams, meaning that he should not be a ‘waste’ of a roster spot.

Michael Burton career snap counts (offense and special teams):


  • Off 241
  • ST 186


  • Off 210
  • ST 115


  • Off 180
  • ST 125

2018 (8 games)

  • Off 90
  • ST 50

Why a fullback?

It would be a fair question to wonder why the Redskins would suddenly need a fullback. The position, after all, is quickly dying in today’s NFL.

The answer may lie in the fact that the Redskins’ lead back at the moment is Adrian Peterson.

AD built the foundation of his Hall of Fame career in Minnesota, where he spent five years as a teammate of Rhett Ellison, one of the more talented fullbacks of the past decade or two.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-Minicamp Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

While Peterson actually stated early on that he preferred to run out of a single-back set, analysis showed that he was more productive running behind Ellison.

Peterson is averaging 7.2 yards per carry this season when he has a lead blocker and 3.3 yards per carry when he does not. He has gained 985 of his 1,286 yards out of the two-back set, including 13 of his 14 runs that have gone for 20-plus yards.

After five years of playing together in Minnesota, Peterson has more recently acknowledged his close friendship with Ellison, as well as the fullback’s role in AD’s success. Ellison was a proficient blocker as both a tight end and a fullback and helped Adrian Peterson rush for more than 1,000 yards three times, including 2,097 yards in his MVP season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Peterson has shown a lot of growth as a player since coming into the league in 2007. He used to be considered a single-dimensional back, capable of running but not catching passes, and limited to running from “the dot” in a single-back set, lined up about 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Peterson was something of a one-trick pony when he joined the NFL, but — as they say — it was a pretty damned good trick.

Foxborough ,MassI,10/31/2010• Vikings @ New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. .----IN THIS PHOTO- ] Vikings running back Adrian Peterson dove over the top for a first second quarter touchdown . Photo by Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Jay Gruden was determined to fit Peterson into the Redskins offense last year, and AD showed that he has enhanced his skill over the years, running from offset shotgun position, running inside zone, outside zone and power between the tackles.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

He ran short yardage plays from the I-formation behind Ryan Anderson, and was fairly effective catching passes out of the backfield. His pass protection has been inconsistent — he nearly got Case Keenum killed when he whiffed on a blitz in Miami this past Sunday — but often competent.

Still, Adrian Peterson has proven to be most effective as a north-south runner, and there are those pesky statistics from his early career that indicate he should run behind a fullback.

Is Callahan about to unveil something different?

With Bill Callahan, it’s possible that what was old is new again.

It seems too random to simply grab a fullback off the street to help with special teams.

Bill Callahan, speaking to reporters on Thursday:

“We can utilize [FB Michael Burton] in a 21 personnel package or a 22 personnel package and just find different ways to feature the running game and the passing game and we think Burton is the type of guy that can fill that role. It’s an added grouping that a defense has to prepare for.

I don’t think that’s any secret, so what we try to do is just find an inventory of plays and packages that we can utilize and go forth with it.

We had quite a few situations in training when we had 21 personnel and when we had a fullback and that was good work for us and we kind of like it. You can run the ball a little bit more physically inside in terms of your lead type run actions and run plays. I just think it gives you a total different dimension.

I like having a fullback. Every place I’ve been, we’ve had a fullback.

I like the two-back running game, I like all the different types of things you can do with it, whether it’s the play actions, run actions, it just gives you a different dimensions.

I think it’s easier to see the coverages that way. I think a lot of people play single high, post safety. When you’re in a two back, they load up the box. They’re going to play an eight-man box, generally speaking. You have lead block elements to it that can help your leverage in the running game, but it also helps your passing game. You get a lot of one-on-one opportunities outside on the perimeter with your receivers.

So, in a nutshell, the route concepts that come off of it lend itself to big plays or possible chunks. It just really isolates two really good receivers.

Also gives you an opportunity to mix in a lot of different actions. Whether it’s the boot action, iso action, whether you have split flow actions.

I think you do as many things as you can to keep the linebackers at bay, keep them honest, make them bite on the run a little bit heavier and then open up your passing game and vise versa. Then you have an opportunity to play hard ball every now and then.

Then you can get into some 22 personnel with two backs and two tights and diversify your attack from there as well.

I like the two-back running game, I always have.

It’s good to have a fullback on the team and let’s see if we can utilize him successfully.”

Given what I know of Adrian Peterson and what Callahan has said about wanting to use the running game as a weapon, I think ol’ Bill is about to make his first significant change to the Redskins offensive scheme since taking over — I think he’s about to add a power running package from the I-formation with Burton playing the role of Brett Ellison, blazing the path for Peterson. It may offer a way to help improve the run blocking without making any changes to the offensive line unit, which is probably already playing the best five guys available.

The Redskins have a future Hall of Fame running back who ran for 1,074 yards last year, but who has proven to be most productive running from a powerful I-set.

The team just signed a fullback — a position they haven’t had (outside of the practice squad) in the regular season since 2015.

Bill Callahan wants to establish an identity for his offense as a running team. In his own words, he likes having a fullback on the roster.

The ‘Skins are facing a tough defense and an undefeated team in the 49ers on Sunday.

Is it possible that they will want to offer a “new” look that the defensive coordinator hasn’t seen on film?


What is the significance of the Redskins signing fullback Michael Burton to the roster?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Pffft... he either won’t play, or he’ll just get special teams snaps
    (7 votes)
  • 21%
    He may see a few offensive snaps on short yardage, but not enough to make a difference in the Redskins offensive scheme
    (74 votes)
  • 54%
    He’ll be noticeable as a frequent blocker for Adrian Peterson
    (188 votes)
  • 17%
    He’ll add new dimensions to the ‘Skins offense as a blocker, ball carrier and receiver. He will be the second coming of Darrel Young.
    (61 votes)
  • 4%
    Roster churn... nothing more
    (15 votes)
345 votes total Vote Now