Smash-mouth football could be making its way back into the Bears offense.
As the team prepares to tie a bow on the offseason program with minicamp beginning Tuesday, it has been interesting to see what wrinkles new coordinator Dowell Loggains will add to the system. Based on the offseason program, there is a good chance the Bears will carry a fullback after going without one the last two seasons.
Paul Lasike, who spent the majority of last season on the practice squad, and Joe Sommers, an undrafted rookie from Wisconsin-Oshkosh, are on the roster, and the Bears will investigate at least one veteran in minicamp as former Redskin Darrel Young will have a tryout.
Last year, offensive coordinator Adam Gase preferred using three tight ends to carrying a fullback. The Bears ran 57 plays with three tight ends on the field and would require more work to justify carrying a fullback. Coach John Fox and Loggains are more open to the idea of a blocking back, which has been a disappearing position around the NFL, and a deciding factor will be how a potential fullback can fit on special teams. If he can cover kicks, he has a shot.
Adding a fullback would allow the Bears to reduce the formation and play power football while giving quarterback Jay Cutler an easy option in the flat on play action. A fullback would be an aid to the young running backs. While some scouts believed Matt Forte ran better from a one-back set, Jeremy Langford played in a pro system at Michigan State. Imagine rookie Jordan Howard with a fullback at the goal line. There’s no window dressing needed, and with Kyle Long back at right guard, that’s a lot of beef in the ground game.
Lasike, a New Zealand native, went to BYU to play for the school’s powerhouse rugby program and asked for a chance to walk on the football team after learning a little about the game during a Mormon mission in Alabama.
“Paul actually found us,” said former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, now at Virginia. “I think his words, in that accent, were ‘I’d like to give it a go.’ We welcomed him out and it didn’t take long.”
Lasike participated in the offseason program and preseason with the Cardinals last year before final cuts, when the Bears scooped him up. The first football game — at any level — he attended was when he was in pads and wearing a helmet for BYU.
But Mendenhall said it didn’t take as much work teaching the game to Lasike as it did Ghanaian-born BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah, now an elite pass rusher for the Lions. It starts with the basics — how to put your equipment on — before reviewing basic rules.
“Paul was knocking guys down and getting up and finishing them just like he didn’t know better,” Mendenhall said. “Rugby is continual and he was playing football like it was a continual game, and he just kept going exactly how you would like someone to play.”
Lasike has some natural receiving skills from playing rugby and caught 25 passes as a senior, when he was named a team captain. Although he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 232 pounds, he’s closer to 260, about 40 pounds heavier than when he played rugby.
“Dowell texted me [early in the offseason],” Lasike said, “and said: ‘We’re installing a 21 [two backs, one tight end]personnel package and we have you in mind and we believe in you. We want to give you this opportunity and see what you can make of it.’ The door is wide open and I really have to take advantage of it.”
BYU rarely incorporated the I-formation, so there is a learning curve that quality control coach John Dunn, a former tight ends coach at Maryland, puts Lasike and Sommers through during individual periods.
The Bears signed Sommers as a tight end, but because he is only 6-3, they decided to move him to the running backs room, where he could fit as an H-back. Sommers caught 66 passes the last two seasons.
With Young getting a look, it’s clear the Bears are serious about bulking up their backfield. It has been an interesting journey for Lasike to this point, one he hopes to continue charting.
“I could never have dreamed this,” he said. “It’s amazing and it’s crazy. My dream was always to play for the New Zealand All Blacks team and I have a couple of friends playing on the team now. I was on the track and we were in an academy together; that was our goal.
“I’m not going to say I would have made it or not. The shot was there. My path kind of changed a little.”