FB B.J. Askew will continue to provide lead blocks without hesitation, but he would happily accept a few more carries, too
Had he not been injured on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second play of the game, Earnest Graham likely would have received that handoff.
"That" handoff was the one Jeff Garcia made to B.J. Askew in the third quarter with the Buccaneers trailing Minnesota 13-6 last Sunday afternoon. Askew took the ball – his first carry in two seasons as a Buccaneer – and fought one tough yard into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
On the play, Askew had lined up in his traditional fullback spot in front of tailback Warrick Dunn. It was a first-and-goal play, and the Bucs went to a gambit they have used successfully in short-yardage several times this year. The defense is focusing on the tailback, Garcia gets the ball quickly into the fullback's hands and the fullback is into the hole and out the other side before the other side realizes that he's got the ball.
The play worked its way into the Bucs' game-day plans after Askew and backup fullback Byron Storer were injured in September and October, respectively. Graham voluntarily moved to fullback to help the Bucs fill the void at that position, and that gave Tampa Bay another proven runner in the backfield whenever he lined up in front of Dunn.
So, putting two and two together, it's likely the Bucs would have put Graham in front of Dunn for that fateful goal line play at the end of an 80-yard drive to start the second half. It might have seemed like that option went out the window with Graham's first-quarter ankle injury – a season-ender, horribly – but handing the ball to Askew isn't as off-the-wall as it might seem.
It obviously caught the Vikings by surprise, but Askew is no stranger to toting the rock.
Originally a versatile tailback/fullback hybrid at Michigan, where power running games are usually the norm, Askew found a different niche when he arrived in New York as a Jets third-rounder in 2003. He had run 343 times for 1,580 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Wolverines, but the Jets saw the 6-3, 233-pound Askew as a lead blocker and occasional short-yardage ballcarrier. He carried 27 times for 102 yards in his four seasons as a Jet.
When Askew hit the free agent market in 2007, the fullback-starved Buccaneers saw the same thing, and for good reason. Askew is a powerful lead blocker, and while he maintains a belief that he could contribute with the ball in his hands in the NFL, he hasn't let that belief distract him from focusing on his primary role. In that regard, Askew is the type of team player around which this current Bucs squad is built.
Askew wouldn't mind if the Bucs' current backfield shortage leads to some more opportunities like the one he had against Minnesota, but he's not going to waste time pining for more carries either.
"Absolutely, I would love to get some more carries here, but like I've said before, I'm here to be a fullback," he said. "I have the ability to run the ball too, so if we go that route, I'm going to have confidence in myself to get the job done."
Necessity is the mother of invention – or maybe re-invention in the case of someone like Askew – in the NFL. Faced with a rash of tailback injuries in Denver, the Broncos started fullback Peyton Hillis as their tailback last weekend in a win over Atlanta. Askew is largely unproven as an NFL runner, but he has his college pedigree as evidence and he has also shown speed and some nice moves in the open field as a pass-catcher with the Buccaneers.
Askew totaled just 12 catches in his four seasons in New York but the Buccaneers weren't shy about throwing it to him last year. Often darting down the seams, Askew caught 18 passes for 175 yards last year, averaging 9.7 yards per grab, which is excellent for a "fullback."
Even with an injury that has robbed him of half of his second season in Tampa, Askew has another 10 catches this year. He'd love to add to that total and help out the Bucs' thinned backfield in any way possible.
"That's really the NFL, period," he said. "If guys get hurt, you've got to have interchangeable parts. That's why we all study so hard. That's why we spend so many hours here, because you never know when you're name is going to be called on doing a job that you don't normally do.
"It doesn't always work. The teams that can manage it the best, they're the ones that go to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl."