Fullbacks need to be tough, nasty, aggressive.
They need to relish contact most players run from. They need to seek out the shots other skill players try to avoid. They need to embrace a brutal and thankless job that paves the way for others.
Two weeks into training camp, Chris Pantale is still trying to prove to the Eagles he’s that player.
“I wanted to show that I was up to the challenge and willing to bring the physical mentality,” Pantale said. “I hope I’ve done so, so far. The [preseason opener on Thursday] will obviously be a big test. I just wanted to show that I wasn’t afraid to mix it up and put my face into someone’s chest.”
Pantale, 26, is listed as a tight end on the Eagles roster, but in Doug Pederson’s west coast offense has been lining up, at times, as a lead blocker since OTAs. Throughout the spring, the Eagles’ coaching staff kept saying it wouldn’t know if Pantale could play fullback until they saw him in pads.
Pads went on over a week ago.
“Yeah, [Pantale is] doing well,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There are two things you look for when you take a tight end and put him in the backfield. The one thing you look for, first and foremost, is, is he nasty? Is he aggressive? Will he go after it? Because when you play that position, you’ve got to be physical; you’ve got to love contact. And he’s shown that.
“Secondly, for tight ends who are always playing on the line of scrimmage, it’s a different feel from the backfield – how to insert; how to find your [line] backer; having the instinct to see it. You almost have to see it like a tailback, because the tailback is following you most of the time. He’s really shown good vision in that. So, on both of those fronts, which are very key, he’s been doing very well.”
Playing fullback isn’t exactly something new for Pantale, who said he’s always had a very physical mindset as a football player. He was asked to do a little lead blocking at Boston College and some with the Jets, who ran a similar offense, in 2013 and 2014.
But this is the most he’s ever done it.
Sure, Trey Burton has done some lead blocking during training camp, but he’s clearly a bigger threat in the pass game and it’s Pantale who has been getting first-team reps at fullback.
Pantale was signed to the Eagles practice squad last September and spent the rest of the season there. Had Chip Kelly not been fired and Doug Pederson not been hired, Pantale knows he wouldn’t have this opportunity.
Kelly’s system didn’t utilize the fullback position, so if Kelly were still the head coach, Pantale’s odds of making the roster would be incredibly slim. It seems pretty clear Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton are the top three tight ends on the team. Without this offense, there would be no reason to keep a fourth.
Even with the fullback position, he’s no lock to make the squad. But he has a decent shot, especially if he proves himself when the preseason games start.
“I understand my role on this team,” Pantale said. “If I’m gonna make it, I have to be a tough guy, mix it up in there.”