Tight end or fullback? That's the obvious question surrounding Shaw graduate Bruce Figgins as he devotes his first summer out of college trying to earn a spot with the Baltimore Ravens. He doesn't know how the Ravens eventually will answer that question. But he knows his answer.
"Whatever they need me as," Figgins said. He chuckled and added, "If they asked me if I played quarterback, I would tell them 'yes.' "
Not that Joe Flacco has anything to worry about.
But the answer may not be so obvious. Figgins' comfort level with both positions, and the value of versatility given the NFL's tight roster space, just might be his ticket. The Ravens have two good, young tight ends in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. They combined for 97 receptions last season, and both are entering their third seasons.
They also have one of the best fullbacks in the NFL in veteran Vonta Leach, who is in the second year of a three-year, $11 million contract.
But there are needs for a third tight end and a backup fullback. Figgins realizes he must prove his value to the Ravens, or at least impress them enough to earn a good reference in case he's released.
"They told me they like my size (6-3½, 255 pounds) and they like my versatility, and they like the fact that I play special teams."
Even though he was not drafted, Figgins had impressed NFL evaluators enough at the East-West Shrine Game, Georgia's Pro Day, and a private workout with the New England Patriots that he knew he had options.
He chose to sign with Baltimore because the Ravens' grinding running game suited his skills. Although he gained the attention of Bulldog fans by catching a touchdown pass in his first game as a true freshman, Figgins has always realized his strength is his ability to road grade quicker linebackers and push bigger defensive ends inside to spring the running back free to the outside.
Figgins' journey through college was anything but conventional. He went from starting his freshman season in 2007 to being lost in the crowd at tight end by his junior season. In between, he fought through a shoulder injury that required surgery, then fell out of favor when he tested positive for marijuana.
He came back in 2010 -- healthier, stronger and more mature. But by then, Charles was entrenched as the starter and Aron White was solid as the backup. Figgins might have pushed White for the backup job.
But the coaches saw a greater need. Shawn Chapas was going to miss the 2010 Liberty Bowl against Central Florida with an ankle injury. That left them with only Fred Munzenmaier and freshman Zander Ogletree to play fullback. The need wasn't just short term. Chapas and Munzenmaier were both seniors. Ogletree was not deemed ready to be an every down fullback in the SEC.
So the coaches asked Figgins to give fullback a try. With raised eyebrows,
Figgins said "sure."
What began as an experiment born out of need led to an opportunity to start his senior season, which expanded his resume to something beyond "backed up one of the best tight ends in college football."
Figgins started as a senior, clearing a path for Isaiah Crowell and every now and then bugging running backs coach Bryan McClendon about getting a carry.
Both tight ends and fullbacks are primarily blockers. The biggest difference, said Figgins, is the point of attack. Ideally, fullback should be a bit shorter than he is to be able to get underneath the defensive player.
"My game is very physical," Figgins said. "I'm going to the line of scrimmage very physical to make a way for the running back."
Hopefully in the process, Figgins will be able to make a way for himself.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at email@example.com