When Spencer Larsen was drafted, Mike Shanahan tossed out an idea that seemed a bit odd.
Shanahan thought the linebacker from Arizona might play some fullback for the Denver Broncos. Never mind that he hadn’t played the position since high school.
Two years later, with a new coach, Larsen is a full-time fullback. Although he can’t say he’ll never play linebacker again, he hasn’t been in a defensive meeting all offseason and is studying just one playbook.
“Right now I’m an offensive player,” Larsen said. “I got a white (practice) jersey.”
Turns out Shanahan wasn’t so crazy. Although he hadn’t gone back to Larsen’s high-school film to see if the sixth-round pick could actually play fullback, he saw the skill set.
“I just thought he was one of those guys, watching him with his quickness and agility (and) his ability to catch the ball, that he could go either way,” Shanahan said the day Larsen was drafted.
And Larsen did play both for a couple of years. He famously started at fullback and linebacker against Atlanta in 2008. Last year he started shifting to being primarily an offensive player, and now his days as a linebacker seem over. That’s not a knock on Larsen’s defensive skills, considering he had 15 tackles in three starts at linebacker as a rookie.
Larsen says he doesn’t miss linebacker. He says “football is football,” and making a big hit on a block is the same as making one on a tackle. Larsen said he is happy to concentrate on one position.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot too because I’ve been able to focus just on this,” Larsen said. “I expect more of myself. Last year was just, do the best I can. Now, this is my position, I have to try to become the best at it.”
The Broncos like Larsen’s potential at fullback. They traded Peyton Hillis in the offseason, leaving Larsen as the only true fullback on the roster until they signed Kyle Eckel last week. Yet, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said he wants to use more two-back sets this season.
Although Larsen said he has gotten better with his blocking techniques, he wants to do more. He caught a pass in practice Monday, which was an odd sight. In two seasons playing offense he hasn’t touched the ball in a game.
“That’s something I want to become comfortable with,” Larsen said. “That’s something I haven’t done since high school in a really competitive setting. I’m not just the type to say ‘I’m a blocker.’ I want to expand my role as much as I can, become good at as many things as I can.”
Although Larsen has had an unusual career path – there are virtually no NFL offensive players who spent their entire college career on defense – he doesn’t find it strange.
“Sometimes you try to force something and if you beat your head against the wall with ‘Linebacker, linebacker, linebacker,’ I could have limited myself big time,” Larsen said. “By being open to that, it’s brought all new opportunity for me, and I’m thankful for that.”
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