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Colorado Football: In Defense of the H-Back

CU has the talent to spread out all the time. But I don’t want to.

NCAA Football: Utah at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This article is as much of a strange and small love story as it is an analysis. I don’t love the tight end. Antonio Gates is one of my favorite players ever, but he doesn’t function as a tight end as much as a giant receiver. Sean Irwin did a fantastic job last year, but he was essentially and extra offensive tackle that was eligible to catch passes. But a tight end seems like an uneasy marriage. Less speedy than a receiver and not as good as a tackle. They can gum up the works for the offense and defense.

But an H-back? Oh my lord I’m infatuated. Let me show you the best love song on YouTube:

An H-back is the perfect balance. Athletic, smart, and most importantly, physical. The H-back stays in the backfield, which masks its role. As a lead blocker, he can pick up momentum and artificially set any edge or pick up any rusher. As a runner, he can get tough yards and provide unpredictability. But where I really love him is in the passing game. The H-back will never go downfield. He won’t catch bombs over the shoulder. But when the rushers outnumber the linemen, and everyone is covered downfield, chuck it to the big guy for 5 yards and some punishment. If you’re lucky, he’ll run over or evade the 1-on-1 tackle and pick up 10 or 15. But he’s always there.

An H-back provides flexibility and imposes will on the defense. Sometimes you just need to run guys over.

CU’s offense next year could easily go five wide. Five receivers spreading the defense out and going. Or it could go four wide and some guy named Phillip Lindsay. Add some pop to that sizzle. But I’m here to say that they should, at least sometimes, add another body to the backfield. Let me show one of my favorite plays from last year. It was inconsequential, during an Idaho State blowout, but it showed something that didn’t come up very much after this game.

The Bengal defense is rightfully focused on the running back. Frazier, the inline tight end, completes a chip block and runs to the corner. Hill, the H-back, is ready to do the same thing to the edge defender, but he runs to cover Frazier in the corner. He runs his shallow route and catches the easy drop-off pass. Easy touchdown. Here’s a similar play from the same game with Montez and Bounds:

And one from the Utah game:

Instead of running with Frazier, the defender runs with the H-back (who is still open, by the way), leaving an easy dump-off TD. At least it was until it was dropped. This play was created by the H-back and his shallow route.

These plays aren’t possible without this versatile physical weapon. A hurry-up offense is based on spreading the defense and consistently moving the chains. Often, this is best accomplished with four speedy guys on the outside running timing routes. But the H-back is unique suited to both spreading the defense and moving the chains, and I love him for it. He creates a margin of error for the QB, a failsafe if it all goes wrong. He physically beats up the defense rather than getting beat up on. And he blasts holes for the RB. Remember Lorenzo Neal? Mike Alstott? Fullbacks who would block and that’s it? They don’t exist in the spread offense. But the H-back thrives.