Jamie Harper was at the head of the line for virtually all of his first training camp.
This year, he’s learning to throw himself headfirst into the line of scrimmage.
“They have me working a little bit a fullback,” the second-year Tennessee Titans running back said. “Filling into that spot is a whole different mental aspect. At running back, you kind of evade getting hit. Then at fullback you have to rush right into it.”
The fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson was one of the surprise stars of the 2011 preseason, when started twice of the four contests. He started twice, rushed for a team-high 168 yards on 38 carries and scored all but one of Tennessee’s four rushing touchdowns. His 46-yard run at St. Louis was the team’s longest play of the preseason.
“It just came so quick. I couldn’t ask for nothing more — just getting out there in the preseason, being that first back and getting that first touch and everybody pretty much counting on me to come through,” he said.
He was selected, in part, because of his size. At 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, he offered far more bulk than either Johnson (5-11, 191) or Ringer (5-9, 213).
Of course, the Titans thought they had their big back a year earlier when undrafted LeGarrette Blount rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason. When they placed him on waivers with the hope that he would be signed to the practice squad, though, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed him.
As such, they will see Blount when they face the Buccaneers 6:30 p.m. (CDT) Friday at Tampa (WKRN-TV Ch. 2). They also will continue to look for things they can do with Harper.
“[Harper] did a good job showing us last year what he can do,” coach Mike Munchak said. “He took advantage of the opportunity given to him. There will be games this year. I’m sure the second half of this game he’ll get an opportunity to run again and show us where he’s at. … We’ll get enough to show us what he can do.”
Harper rushed 15 yards on five carries in last Saturday’s loss at Seattle. That was fewer attempts and yards than he had in any of last year’s preseason games.
His opportunities in 2011 were the result of the fact that Johnson sat out in a contract dispute and Ringer was sidelined for much of training camp by an injury.
“It was just throwing me into the fire and I prevailed over it,” he said. “The offensive line did a tremendous job for me opening up holes, wide receivers were blocking down the field, tight ends. The passing game was kind of on point so that just opened it up for me a little better.
“We had the lockout last year. Coming into it blind, not really knowing what exactly we were getting into it just developed so fast in front of my face and I had a good time.”
Now, with Johnson in camp, Ringer healthy and Darius Reynaud a star in the first game, Harper will have far fewer opportunities to carry the ball this preseason. An occasional turn at fullback will, at least, give him more chances to get on the field.
“I’m just getting into it and trying to do whatever I can do to step on to the field and try to get more playing time,” he said. “I just go in there with a positive mindset and get out there with everything I’ve got.
“Pass protection is definitely a big thing, getting there and just being able to read it quickly, and functioning within the offense — being the whole package instead of being just the third-down back or just a little role. It’s basically to open up my horizons.”
And to help open holes instead of just running through them.
There currently are two true fullbacks on the training camp roster. Both, veteran Quinn Johnson and free agent rookie Collin Mooney, are heavier than Harper but might not provide as much versatility.
“There’s a lot of different aspects that the fullback can bring to the game,” Harper said. “I can bring my speed to it and my size and my quick feet to it, I can bring a lot of different things to the offense with me playing fullback.
“Definitely, I’m just trying to see where it leads me. If I come into it and they start doing a lot of different things with it, I’m pretty sure I’ll fall in love with it.”