January 25, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece (45) reacts during the 2014 Pro Bowl Ohana Day at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Raiders Fullback Marcel Reece has been perhaps the most consistent quality player on the Raiders roster over the past four seasons. A two time Pro Bowler who has appeared on the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players list, Marcel Reece is a dynamic offensive threat who has shown that he can be a consistent receiving target (52 receptions in 2012) and has also shown flashes of ability as a halfback, including a 100 yard rushing game against the Saints late in the 2012 season. A college wide receiver at Washington, Reece has developed his game as a blocking fullback, but his route running and receiving skills, along with good speed, made him an essential weapon for Greg Knapp’s offense in the 2012 season and a favorite target of Carson Palmer. Last year, in Greg Olson’s offense that was simplified for rookies Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, Reese returned to his Hue Jackson-era form, contributing moderately to the passing game but spending most of his time as a blocking back.
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With the emergence of hybrid Fullback/Tight Ends like Delanie Walker and Charles Clay (commonly referred to as H-backs) and the explosion around the league of tight ends in general, it is worth asking if Marcel Reece is being wasted as a blocking fullback. While this is certainly an important role in an offense that is sure to feature the run heavily again this year, Jamize Olawale is certainly a capable blocking back, and the Raiders do not have a clear option at the Tight End position.
Second year man Mychal Rivera certainly showed that he is a capable receiving tight end last season, David Ausberry has all the speed and athleticism you would want, and Brian Leonhardt and Nick Kasa have the prototypical size and strength for block-first TE’s. Aside from Rivera, however, no TE on the Raiders roster has shown consistent ability as a receiver, and Rivera was not known for his blocking last year.
Reece is not a prototypical tight end in terms of size, but at 6’1″ 250 is bigger than Delanie Walker, who had 60 receptions for Tennessee last season. While he is a good blocking back, blocking out of the backfield is different from coming out of a three-point stance across from a defensive lineman or Sam linebacker and driving him off the ball as a TE operating at the end of the line of scrimmage is expected to do. But as an H-back, playing off-set outside of a traditional TE or an offensive tackle, able to go in motion in to and out of the backfield, Reece can still operate as more of a lead or seal blocker at the point of attack on run plays, as well as being effective in the pass game. From an H-back alignment, he can be set in motion not only into the backfield, but into the slot or even out wide, in order to generate mismatches and confusion or simply to force the defense to make adjustments. This isn’t a dramatically new concept for Reece, but was usually reserved for passing downs and spread formations when Greg Knapp was the OC.
With his speed and athletic ability, Reece matches up well against linebackers and can get open, as we saw over and over in 2012 when he would frequently be moved from the FB position into the slot. His larger frame makes him a dangerous matchup in the secondary as well, as he can use his body to essentially box out smaller defensive backs. While he doesn’t have the wingspan or height of some of the more dangerous receiving TE’s in the league (Graham, Gronkowski), he has ability to run after the catch that would open up a lot of potential for tight end screens and delay routes.
Whether veteran Matt Schaub or rookie Derek Carr starts, they will need a guy who can give them a good safety-valve and check-down option, and will keep defenses from blitzing too aggressively. Reece in 2012 was widely considered one of the most dynamic weapons in the league, but at times in 2013 it felt like the coaching staff forgot what he was capable of. With the running back corps already full of talent (and capable pass blockers in MJD and DMC), they may want to consider taking their most versatile offensive player and plugging him in where they need help the most.