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Giants Training Camp: Young Fullbacks Begin Slugging It Out

Smith, Huesman trying to earn roster spots

NCAA Football: San Jose State at UNLV
Shane Smith at San Jose State.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Getting the most out of padded practice, “squeezing all the juice out of the orange” as New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo would say, is important for NFL teams because there are so few padded workouts. They are especially critical for “bubble” players or young guys trying catch the attention of the coaching staff in hopes of earning a roster spot.

Such was the case on Tuesday for two young Giants competing for what they hope will be one spot on the 53-man roster — fullbacks Shane Smith and Jacob Huesman.

A fullback’s job is to be a physical force, to lead a running back up into a hole and knock whoever is in the way — linebacker, defensive lineman, safety, whoever — out of the way. It is, obviously, not something that can be done while working in shorts and t-shirts.

So, Tuesday’s practice — and subsequent ones to come in pads — will be key as both young players hope to prove the value of a fullback to the Giants, and to win a job.

The Giants did not carry a fullback last season. This year, they have hybrid tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison — a high-priced free agent — and the two youngsters as fullback options.

“If you look at the four teams that made it to the AFC and NFC championship, all four of them had a fullback. That says something, right? Two teams in the Super Bowl both used a fullback heavily,” Smith pointed out after Tuesday’s practice.

“They want to have a fullback, they’ve told me, and hopefully I can be their guy.”

Smith Gets In First Punch

Smith, an undrafted free agent who was a blocking fullback at San Jose State, had a better day than Huesman, a college quarterback getting his first-ever snaps in pads as a fullback on Tuesday.

“Being in pads you’ve gotta show up physical, and I think I showed I could do that today,” Smith said. “I felt really good.”

Smith was able to effectively block linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson on different plays. He also came away with a favorite play of the day.

“My very last rep in team I had a good shot on a linebacker,” Smith said. “I forget who it is, but I’m looking forward to watching the film.”

Huesman also had a memorable day, but won’t be excited about the film session. He did OK for the most part, but Huesman won’t soon forget stepping up into a hole on one rep, trying to block Casillas and having the veteran linebacker blast him backwards and nearly knock him off his feet.

“I’m glad you saw that,” Huesman deadpanned when asked about it.

Huesman’s Best Chance?

Huesman, 6-foot-1, was a 225-pound quarterback at Division I-AA Tennessee-Chattanooga. The Giants list him at 216 pounds. Huesman, though, said he has actually bulked up and as of Tuesday morning was 239 pounds. He said any weight he adds requires “an adjustment.”

The 24-year-old also admitted that the physicality required of playing fullback, and how hard the defenders hit, is also an adjustment. In addition to quarterback, he had a brief stint in the CFL as a running back. He has long-snapped and, per NJ Advance Media, tried out with the Giants at safety last year. They signed him to the practice squad as a running back.

So, why fullback?

“It’s the only position anyone wanted me to play at this level,” Huesman said honestly.

In an interview with Football Game Plan, Huesman expanded on his transition:

“This was my first practice playing fullback in full pads,” he said. “It’s going to take a little getting used to. Just how violent it is in between the tackles.”

Smith A Workout Warrior

Smith has no such adjustment issues. He is a converted linebacker who spent all four seasons at San Jose State playing fullback. He had 21 catches, but only two rushing attempts during his collegiate career.

The 23-year-old is a workout warrior whose Twitter feed (@ShaneSmith821) is filled with weight training and other exercise videos. He doesn’t do it just to build big muscles, which he certainly has.

“If you check out my social media pages you’ll see I do a lot of explosion work. I do power cleans, plyometrics. The training facility I work at does a lot of air pressure machines. It’s not so much about how much weight you can lift, it’s about how fast you can move a certain amount of weight,” Smith said.

“That’s my main focus. Then when I’m hitting someone in the hole I can be explosive, not just be a big rock. You’ve gotta be like a lightning bolt.”

Smith used an impressive Pro Day, with 36 bench press reps (which would have been the best at the NFL Combine) and 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump, to make sure NFL teams noticed him.

“You’ve definitely gotta be athletic. People think at fullback you’re just a big thug out there, but you’ve gotta be athletic,” said Smith, pointing out that linebackers and safeties are often more athletic than fullbacks. “You’ve gotta be able to make a move and adjust to where they’re gonna go.”

“You Don’t Get Any Shine”

Smith understands, and Huesman is finding out quickly, that you best check your ego at the door if you are going to play fullback. Fans, though, tend to relate to fullbacks, turning players like former Giants fullbacks Henry Hynoski and Nikita Whitlock into cult heroes.

“It’s kinda similar to an offensive lineman. You’re a fullback, you’re almost a glorified o-line. You don’t get any shine, you do the dirty work,” Smith said. “I think people can kind of relate to that, blue collar guys who are just out there doing their work, going to their job every day. You don’t get the shine, you don’t get the touchdowns, you don’t get the big plays, but when you see other guys making the plays, your running back scoring behind you, that’s your glory. That’s all you need.”

Could one of these two become the next fullback/cult hero for the Giants? Remember the Hynoski touchdown dance?

I didn’t get a chance to ask Huesman if he’s got something, but Smith said he’s ready if he gets into an NFL end zone.

“I got something in my back pocket. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Just like we will have to wait and see if one of these youngsters can knock enough defenders out of the way to bulldoze their way to a roster spot.