In Sunday’s 34-24 win over the Chargers, the Buccaneers got two interceptions from undrafted rookies; a touchdown from the combined work of a pair of reserve linebackers; outstanding pass protection from a tackle-turned guard, a guard-turned-center, a center-turned guard and a basketball-player-turned-tackle; a sack from a player signed off another team’s practice squad last fall; and a touchdown catch from a receiver who spent the first few weeks of 2012 on the waiver wire.
(The answer key to that list, by the way is: Leonard Johnson and LeQuan Lewis; Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward; Jamon Meredith, Ted Larsen, Jeremy Zuttah and Demar Dotson; Daniel Te’o-Nesheim; and Tiquan Underwood.)
That’s a whole heap of contributions from players who, for the most part, were flying under the radar before the 2012 season began, and virtually all of it was necessary to pull off the win over San Diego. Those players were unsung heroes on the Bucs’ roster, and there are more of them. That’s why we’re calling this “Unsung Hero Week” here in the Captain’s Blog. Each day through Friday we’re going to highlight one player or group of players on this 2012 Buccaneers team that might not get the nationwide publicity of, say, a Doug Martin or a Ronde Barber, but who are providing critical contributions to the Bucs’ winning efforts.
Today’s Unsung Hero: Fullback Erik Lorig.
Ask yourself this: Who is the front-runner to represent the fullback position for the NFC in this year’s Pro Bowl? Related question: How many NFC fullbacks can you name? If you want a refresher, jump to the Pro Bowl ballot on NFL.com and choose the fullback tab (and while you’re there, maybe, you know, cast a vote for Erik Lorig.)
It’s a position that often toils in anonymity, unless a big-time pass-catcher like Larry Centers comes along or a player becomes so renowned for his blocking, a la Lorenzo Neal, that he gains a foothold in the consciousness of the NFL fan base. So it should come as no surprise when you recognize only a few names on the above list. Some offenses, in fact, marginalize the role of the fullback in the modern NFL, or essentially rely on an H-back type who may have started as a tight end. In the NFC, the fullbacks with the greatest name recognition coming into the 2012 season were probably Green Bay’s John Kuhn and Dallas’ Lawrence Vickers.
Lorig, though? Lorig is starting to gather a little buzz about him in this, his first full season as the Buccaneers’ starting fullback. Tampa Bay drafted Lorig as a defensive end out of Stanford in the seventh round in 2010, but then converted him to offense early in his rookie season, thinking he had potential at either tight end (which he had played in high school) or fullback. Last year, Earnest Graham’s season-ending Achilles injury opened the door to more playing time for Lorig, and this year he has the fullback position fully locked down.
And he’s making the most of it. Lorig’s receiving numbers – nine catches for 63 yards and a touchdown – aren’t overwhelming, but they are pretty close to the best totals by any fullback in the conference. Only Carolina’s Mike Tolbert has more, and Tolbert is the one player on the NFC fullback ballot who is more involved as a primary ballcarrier in his team’s offense. (That, by the way, is no knock on Tolbert or his qualifications as a fullback.)
Among all the players listed on the NFC ballot for fullbacks, here are the top pass-catchers so far this year, ranked by receptions:
|1. Mike Tolbert, CAR||14||142||0|
|2. Erik Lorig, TB||9||63||1|
|3. John Kuhn, GB||8||70||0|
|4. Delanie Walker, SF||7||89||1|
|5. Henry Hynoski, NYG||7||32||0|
Of course, for most of these players, their primary task is to block for the tailback, and in that regard Lorig has really come into his own in 2012. He’s leading the way for the NFL’s 11th-ranked rushing attack, and the sixth-ranked squad in terms of yards per carry. Lorig is big – 6-4 and 250 pounds – but as you would expect from a former speed-rushing defensive end, also quite fast. A smart player, he has also done an excellent job of absorbing the Buccaneers’ new offense in 2012.
Doug Martin, the Bucs’ breakout rookie tailback, certainly appreciates the work being turned in by his backfield mate.
“Erik Lorig does a good job of getting on guys, getting that initial pop and then moving guys out of the hole,” said Martin. “He’s a very intelligent guy and he understands the offensive scheme and where the play is going to go. Overall, he’s a great fullback for us.”
Lorig’s lead blocking could conceivably pave the way to the Pro Bowl for Martin, if the rookie sensation can maintain his hot streak. Perhaps, if Lorig becomes less of an Unsung Hero and more of a recognized force at the fullback position, he could make his way to Honolulu, as well.