Fullback presence & the I-formation

One of the potential changes for the Patriots' offense in 2012 is the fullback position.

While some view fullback as becoming extinct in the NFL, coordinator Josh McDaniels seems to like the possibility of reintegrating it into the team's attack, as evidenced by coming to training camp with three of them (the Patriots didn't have a pure fullback on the roster in 2011).

In Thursday's preseason opener, followers might have noticed the usage of two-back sets, often times with Eric Kettani as the fullback in the I-formation (a few times Kettani was offset; TE Aaron Hernandez lined up at fullback once).

The Patriots ran 11 first-half plays with a fullback as the second player in the offensive backfield (not including two-minute situation), and here was how the production broke down:

Rushes: 5 for 26 yards

Passes: 2-for-6, 30 yards

Bill Belichick acknowledged Friday that the Patriots didn't use the I-formation often in 2011.

One of its benefits, as opposed to employing a second tight end at the line of scrimmage in base personnel, is that it doesn't immediately declare the strength of the formation to the defense.

"When you have a fullback in the backfield in the I-formation or even if he’s offset, it’s a lot easier for that player to go to either side of the ball and he can get to the tight-end side or he can get to the weak side and become a blocker at the point of attack, but the defense doesn’t know where that’s going to be until he runs his course after the ball is snapped," Belichick said.

As we project ahead to the final 53-man roster (set on Aug. 31), and where a fullback might fit, the first preseason game was a good example of how the position could help the offense. It doesn't necessarily mean the Patriots will use the I-formation a lot in 2012, but it is something they have been working on, and wanted to see how it looked in game action.

Free-agent signee Spencer Larsen (currently out because of an injury) and Kettani are the fullback candidates.