The move was experimental initially, but offensive lineman Zach Fulton was an easy sell. When the Chiefs asked him to spend a few training-camp practices playing center — rather than his usual spot at guard — the attraction was obvious.
The move offered Fulton a chance to become more versatile. It presented more avenues toward getting — and staying — on the field. It bettered the odds of a long-lasting NFL career.
The proof? That’s his 2017 season in a nutshell.
Fulton has moved across the offensive line this year, but after a season-ending injury to center Mitch Morse, his permanent home is in the middle of the line. That’s where he will set up Saturday, when the Chiefs open the postseason against the visiting Tennessee Titans.
“You just want to be on the field,” Fulton said. “It’s not that much different, honestly, than playing guard. It’s just a little bit different technique-wise on some plays, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same.”
When the Chiefs drafted Fulton out of Tennessee in the sixth round in 2014, he had never played a game at center. Although it was an adjustment in the aforementioned 2015 training camp — after he spent his rookie season starting at guard — playing the position has become “second nature” now, he said.
From the Chiefs’ perspective, it’s appeared to be a relatively seamless transition from Morse to Fulton. After Fulton took over late in the year, the Chiefs responded with a three-game winning streak, running for 442 yards over that time span. Fulton sat out Sunday.
Well, it’s appeared seamless. In reality, Morse and Fulton can play the same position, but they attack the responsibilities a bit differently. Whereas Morse is noted for being quick on his feet — allowing him to pull on running plays — Fulton’s strength is brute power.
“There are certain things the center would do (differently), but that’s all,” Fulton said. “But on a basic inside-zone play, it’s the same footwork more times than not (and the) same key points to getting the job done.”
The pass protection can demand a tweak in approach. A center often turns into the rover of the offensive line on passing downs, pitching in wherever help is needed.
That’s where his experience over the past few seasons — a lot of it during practice — has come in handy.
“With Zach, there’s a reliability,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “For us as coaches and for the quarterbacks, just kind of knowing as a backup center (he can) come in and replace Mitch, there’s not a lot of thinking going on. Zach comes in. He’s been there, done that. He’s a smart guy. We get up to the line of scrimmage, and we roll. So there’s a comfort level with him in there, being able to come in as a backup.”
Fulton will be a key player on Saturday. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey has made back-to-back Pro Bowls. He has six sacks.
“He’s crafty. He likes to get to the quarterback. He has a lot of good moves on the inside,” Nagy said of Casey. “So our guys on the interior will have to be focused on that.”