The Redskins signed fullback Michael Burton on Wednesday, further emphasizing the team's commitment to the running game under interim head coach Bill Callahan.
“Always excited to play for a run-first, kind of pound-the-ball-mentality type coach, just something that he takes pride in and it’s something I take pride in," Burton said. "When [Coach Callahan] talks about the run game and how I important it is, I take that personally. I put that on my shoulders to be the guy that gets that going.”
While each of the NFL’s top three rushing offenses -- the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings -- employ a fullback consistently, the position has sort of become a lost art in a pass-happy league. However, Burton a five-year NFL veteran ready to step in and contribute any way he can in Washington. His first assignment comes Sunday against the 49ers.
“My mentality is just doing whatever I can to help the Washington Redskins win," Burton said. “That’s my goal when they signed me: it’s to help this team win football games.”
Last week against the Miami Dolphins, the Redskins ran for a season-high 145 yards and Adrian Peterson eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Without a fullback on the roster previously, the Redskins would utilize linebacker Ryan Anderson in short-yardage situations. Now, the burgundy and gold have a designated lead blocker to add even more versatility and physicality to the offense.
“I like having a fullback,” Callahan explained. “Every place I’ve been, we’ve had a fullback. I like the two-back running game. I just think it gives you a totally different dimension.”
With Derrius Guice still on Injured Reserve and Chris Thompson sidelined with a toe injury, Burton will primarily be blocking for a future Hall of Famer in Peterson. It's an opportunity that Burton is both excited about and thankful for.
“The first thing that comes to mind is [Peterson] makes my job so much easier. He’s just a guy that can make people miss, he can run through guys he can do everything," said Burton. "I take it personally every time I line up in front of him.”
Take a look at photos from Redskins practice on Thursday October 17, 2019 before they take on the San Fransisco 49ers.
Two-back sets typically force defenses to stack the box, which often creates 1-on-1 matchups between wide receivers and cornerbacks on the outside. That could prove important Sunday as the Redskins attempt to hit big plays against the 49ers' second-ranked pass defense.
“I think [using the fullback] provides us tremendous flexibility," offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell said. "[Michael Burton] has done a great job coming in and understanding his role.
Emphasizing the run also opens up the play-action pass, something the Redskins also hope to take advantage of moving forward.
“I think you do as many things as you can to keep the linebackers at bay, keep them honest, make them bite on the run a little bit heavier and then open up your passing game and vise versa,” Callahan said. “Then you have an opportunity to play hard ball every now and then.”
Burton is aware of the challenge the 49ers' stout front seven presents, but he has confidence in the run game and his teammates heading into Sunday’s matchup.
“As long as we execute and do our job, I believe this team and this group can play with anybody," Burton said. "I’m just excited to be part of this group and get this run game going.”