PITTSFORD — Fullback is not the position that comes to mind when thinking about an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, such as the one the Buffalo Bills are installing.
But Frank Summers has given coach Doug Marrone and his staff something to consider when establishing the 53-man roster at the end of the month.
Summers, a 5-foot-9, 248-pound human bowling ball, has gotten plenty of work during training camp at St. John Fisher College. He also has seen his snaps go up in the two preseason games, from 11 against Indianapolis to 19 against Minnesota.
“They were predominantly a cover-2 team and they’re very good up front. Knowing that, we wanted to do some things and get some more looks at the ‘21’ personnel with Frank in there and work on some of the plays we haven’t been able to work on as much,” Marrone said after playing the Vikings, referring to formations with two backs and a tight end.
While Summers has put up pedestrian numbers in the two games (just one carry for 1 yard and two catches for 7 yards), he’s given the Bills a different offensive look. That’s a credit to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, the 27-year-old UNLV product says.
“Yeah, it is a little weird, when you think of no-huddle, spread offenses, you think of the four or five wideouts, but that’s hats off to Nate doing a great job incorporating not only a spread hurry up, but also a power attack hurry up,” Summers said. “A lot of times that drives the defense down. You see them over huffing and puffing and we’re running a power play, going right at them. It’s exciting.”
Summers signed with the Bills as a free agent in April.
He started his NFL career as a fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, playing in two games (with one start) at the beginning of that season before going on injured reserve because of a back injury. Summers spent the 2010 season on the Steelers’ practice squad, and was on the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad for a portion of the 2011 season before being out of football last year.
Not surprisingly, he was excited when the Bills called with an opportunity.
“I didn’t have any expectations,” he said. “I’m willing to do anything to help this organization and team out.”
During his time at UNLV, Summers became the only player in school history to lead his team in both rushing (six) and receiving (four) touchdowns in the same season.
“I consider myself a football player, not specific on one position, just all around,” he said. “Whether it’s catching the ball, running the ball, blocking … I enjoy it all. Any time I step on that field, man, I’m excited. I pride myself on being able to do any and all of the above.”
Early in camp, Marrone said a critical part of the evaluation process for fullbacks will come down to short yardage and the goal line.
“Philosophically, depending on who we’re playing, we’ll have a plan whether we use a bigger or smaller package in what we feel gives us the best advantage against certain defenses,” he said.
Those situations have not presented themselves many times in the first two games. The Bills have run just two plays from inside the opponents’ 5-yard line. They have faced third-and-short (2 yards or less) six times, converting twice.
It’s likely the evaluation of Summers will continue right up until final cuts Aug. 31.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.
Summers has made a fan out of running back Fred Jackson.
“Any time you can get a guy in there like that to open some holes for us and make things a lot easier for us to read, it’s going to help us as running backs,” Jackson said. “We like that. And even to get him to catch balls out of the backfield, it’s somebody else that the defense has to account for. I love it. Hopefully we can continue to roll with it.”
When a fullback is in the game, it can sometimes draw another defender closer to the line of scrimmage, or “inside the box.” But Jackson said he likes to have a fullback as a lead blocker.
“They get up on that play-side linebacker and it gives us cuts to go either direction,” he said. “Frank is constantly getting work in there. I think it’s something we’ll do a lot this season, and we’ve got a great guy to do it. He’s not afraid to go and put his nose in there and hit guys play in and play out. Any time you can get a guy like that, it’s definitely going to make it a lot easier for us.”