Nall, Burton In Unique Position For Bears

August 31, 2018 - 10:48 am
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The fullback position often goes forgotten these days, cast aside by modern-day tacticians in place of more running backs. Offenses are more likely to operate out of a shotgun than I-formation and spread the ball to a diverse selection of playmakers.

Fullback Michael Burton understands well the Bears' intentions of just that with new coach Matt Nagy and his system brought to Chicago. With roster cuts from 90 to 53 due this weekend, Burton is left wondering whether the Bears value what he can bring them.

"Obviously, I'm hoping for a big role for the fullback," Burton said.

Burton played in 16 games fo the Bears last season and had a valued role in then-offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains' system. Burton has earned the respect the individual he blocks for in Jordan Howard, is considered a popular locker room presence and has established trust with the coaching staff. Nagy has even lined Burton out wide with the hopes of evaluating his versatility. But will it all matter this weekend?

Rookie running back Ryan Nall, an undrafted free agent signed to the team, has been the man directly competing with Burton this preseason. A standout at Oregon State, Nall rushed for 32 carries and 223 yards in the preseason, which he capped with 79 yards on the ground, including a 32-yard score, in a loss to the Bills on Thursday night.

Nall signed with the Bears because they viewed him as a running back and would offer him the opportunity there when other teams wouldn't. So what did he prove?

"That I can run the ball," Nall said. "That I am explosive, that I have quickness in and outside of the hole, and I can make somebody miss in the open field. I set my goals as a runner to show I can be effective in this offense. Throughout this preseason, I think that I've done a pretty good job of that. We can only hope for the best."

From Nall's perspective, there's some unfortunate potential irony that being labeled as a running back instead of a fullback -- as he desired all along -- may cost him a place on the Bears' 53-man roster. Despite Nall's preseason performance, Nagy and the Bears first have to evaluate whether a fullback is necessary.

Nall did show versatility beyond a role as a running back, establishing himself in special teams -- to the point that he impressed Patrick Mannelly -- while putting some film out as a blocker in case he would be the de facto fullback at times. 

"For me personally, I've left everything that I can out there on that field," Nall said. "I've made the plays that I've made, I've missed the plays that I missed. It's just out of my control. I just control what I can control. I've got no regrets."

The Bears may have a desire to add Nall to their practice squad, but he could get poached away there. Nall got to show the Bears his abilities as a running back, but was also proving it to 31 other teams perhaps swayed by the tape.

It will be Howard leading the Bears' backfield for a third season, Tarik Cohen adding unique elements to Nagy's offense as the No. 2 and veteran Benny Cunningham counted on for value in third-down situations and special teams. Taquan Mizzell put together a strong preseason but is likely redundant in this mix.

Burton brings reliability in leading the way for Howard and Cohen, while Nall boasts the kind of upside a team like the Bears hoped to discover in preseason work. Both agreed they would keep themselves preoccupied during a weekend with some nerves.

There will be many difficult decisions to make this weekend at Halas Hall, with the importance of a fullback among the debate behind closed doors. 

"Every day you got to prove your belong here, because it is a unique position," Burton said. "It can go either way. You really got to show your worth and your wealth every single day."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.