FB Kevin McLeod (foreground) primarily enters the game when some stiff blocking is required
This is what Kevin McLeod does on a football field: He buries would-be tacklers.
That is his role and McLeod accepts it. In fact, he loves it.
It's just that, every once in a while, instead of burying a man, he'd like to dance on his grave. Now you know what beats in the heart of a pure fullback.
Kevin McLeod is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers resident blocking back, the team's returning second-string fullback who was used primarily as a road grader in front of Pro Bowl FB Mike Alstott in 1999. He was picked up as a free agent midway through 1998 after being drafted in the sixth round by Jacksonville and cut by the Jaguars at the end of the pre-season. After half a season on the Bucs' practice roster, he was on the active squad by September of 1999. He's back in camp in 2000 due almost solely to his blocking abilities.
So, yes, he has a hard head, the better to level a linebacker. But – and this he would also like you to know – he has light feet. Just like your average weekend warrior thinks he could catch a few passes in the NFL and this reporter thinks he could write the great American novel, McLeod thinks he could pass for a tailback when need be. And, really, why should we doubt him? The 6-0, 252-pound McLeod has never been asked to run the ball in the pros, so we're not sure what success we would see, or what style.
McLeod, for one, thinks you would see a hardnosed but versatile back.
"I have both (moves and power)," he said. "If it comes down to needing to make an athletic move, I can do that. I think for my size, I have pretty excellent feet. I've got light feet. And when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, I can run you over. I pretty much can do both, but no one knows that."
McLeod said that last line with a laugh, but not a self-deprecatory one. He's not kidding when he says he could be a productive runner, but he's also not kidding himself about his likely role on the team.
"I think my role is basically just 'Jumbo' and short yardage," said McLeod, referring to a package that sports both him and the 248-pound Alstott. "That's mainly what I'm here for, and I think it's pretty much going to be the same way, unless Coach (Les) Steckel might want to do a little something extra and throw me in in the open field to catch some balls. Whatever, I don't really know at this point, but I know the Jumbo role is the same."
And he plans to enjoy it. As much enjoyment as he might get out of a few fancy dance steps with the ball in his hands, it's not likely they would outweigh the thrill of flattening a defender. "I love it," said McLeod of the contact his position requires. "It's a rush to me just to run up in there and crack somebody, drive them back. Not many guys like to do that, but I love that.
"In high school, I was a linebacker. I started four years, and all the honors I ever received where at linebacker. I played a little fullback my junior year, then my senior year I started both ways. For whatever reason, I just grew to love the (fullback) position. The fullback position is sort of like linebacker, but on offense. So I said, 'Hey, I can score some touchdowns while knocking guys around at the same time.'
His turn in the backfield won him a scholarship to Auburn, where he experienced constantly shifting roles. As a freshman, he played primarily in the fourth quarters of Tigers games. As a sophomore, he blocked for current Washington Redskin Stephen Davis, sharing time at the fullback position with Fred Beasley, the San Francisco 49ers' starting fullback.
In McLeod's junior season, Beasley was moved to tailback and McLeod became the full-time starter at fullback. Even when Beasley returned to his original position, McLeod was the primary starter. Then, as a senior, McLeod showed his versatility by playing tight end for the Tigers.
That could help him now in his quest to retain his spot on the roster. Under Steckel, the Buccaneers' big backs may sometimes be utilized in the H-back position. That's a role Alstott will apparently find himself in quite a bit, but it was not one envisioned for McLeod. However, McLeod volunteered to give that position a try during the offseason, impressing the coaching staff.
I'm not just a blocker," said McLeod of his desire to expand his repertoire. "In high school, I rushed for over 1,000 yards, and in college I ran and I caught a few balls. It's not like I don't have an idea how to run the ball. I've run the ball before. The thing is, with this offense, I get to showcase a little bit more of that. That's why I asked if I could be involved, because I can do some things other than blocking."
In addition to his extra work in the offense, McLeod was also a regular at the team complex during the offseason conditioning period. Not satisfied even with that, the Clarkston, Georgia native did a little extra on the side, striving to improve his speed, among other things. He came into camp as raw as most but feels he has stepped it up a notch in week two. That's at least partially due to his first training camp experience, when he was blindsided by the Jaguar's decision to cut him.
"That might have been the biggest shock of my life, because from what I was told, I was beating out the starting fullback," said McLeod. "When cut day came around, I was like, 'Oh my God.' Really, that was the biggest shock of my whole, entire life. That was a learning experience for me, because even at that point I thought I was pretty secure. But you never know, man. Even right now, I'm here with this team but, frankly, I don't consider myself on this team until that final cut day. I learned from that Jacksonville situation that anything is possible.
"You gotta keep working. And I wasn't the type of guy to lay it down…I kept on working. Even if I thought I was doing pretty good, I tried to do better. That's just the type of person I am. But, in certain situations, it's nothing you can control. You can do your best and still end up getting cut. I've learned a whole lot from that experience and I'm not taking any of this for granted."
Of course, that 'anything is possible' spirit works both ways. Make the team by doing what you do best, what they love about you, goes the thought process, then maybe parlay that into a larger role. On a team that includes not just Pro Bowler Alstott but also Warrick Dunn, there aren't going to be a lot of spare carries lying around. Those that are will likely fall to the backup tailback. But, you never know.
McLeod will go on bashing linebackers in the meantime. Just in case, he knows what his perfect role would be.
" would probably get about four or five runs or game, just to showcase that other side of me," he said. "No one has ever seen me run the ball, and I can run the ball."