Tony Fiammetta-- A Great Pickup or A Great Risk?

It's an interesting time now as the Bears go through the most difficult part of the off season, trimming the roster.

I was doing some research on Tony Fiammetta and thought I'd share with you all.

Tony Fi was picked up in 2009 in the 4th round by the Panthers. That year he was the number one rated FB coming out in the draft. Here is the scouting report on him when he came out of Syracuse:

Strengths: Is well-built, looking the part of an NFL fullback. Is smart, athletic and versatile enough to be a weapon at fullback, H-back or, occasionally, tight end. Has quick feet and a deceptive burst through the hole as a ballcarrier. Runs hard and has the strength and balance to run through arm tackles. Is an effective cut blocker. Is willing to deliver a blow to the defender in the hole. Will lock up the defender long enough to keep him from making a play. Is very effective making wham blocks on defensive tackles. Can contain defenders out of the play to open the off-tackle hole. Consistently stands up pass rushers (even defensive ends) and keeps them out of the play.

Weaknesses: Is a little stiff, struggling to get low and lead block with good leverage. Needs to stop blocking defenders high. Cannot twist to catch the ball consistently out of the backfield. Is an upright runner who does not lower his shoulder to deliver a blow to the defender.

Bottom line: Fiammetta is not well known because he played on a bad Syracuse team, but he is the best fullback prospect in this year's draft. He needs to work on blocking with more leverage but has the size, strength and competitiveness to be a dominant blocker. Fiammetta is a strong ballcarrier who consistently gains yards after contact but will not be an effective short-yardage runner until he learns to run with a lower pad level. He should start early in his career. If he can learn to get lower while running and blocking, Fiammetta could become an elite NFL fullback.

In his rookie year--2009-- with the Panthers, Fiammetta didn't really get a chance to play as he was the #2 FB behind 10 year vet and fan fave Brad Hoover.

After the 2009 off season the Panthers released Hoover as part of a veteran purge and Tony Fi was given the starting FB role. He was part of a terrible (2-14 worst team in the league) squad (the squad that landed them Cam Newton) and although nobody really complained much about Tony's play, a lot of folks compared him to the departed, long time favorite ,Hoover.

By the end of the Panther's disasterous 2010 season, Tony Fi had had concussion issues and he went on IR in December. The Panthers were able to land Jerome Felton from Waivers at that time as well and that is how the team ended the 2010 season.

At the start of the the lockout shortened off season, Fiametta was the last guy cut from the Panthers right before the first game. It was a surprising move but new coach Rivera had no connections or investment in Fiammetta, they didn't have a big plan to use FB's, they had Felton on the roster and, supposedly, there were more concussion and health rumors-- but no real evidence.

Two days after he was cut, Fiammetta was immediately signed by the Cowboys to their 53 man roster and was on the team for the opening game. He seemed to get off to a decent start in Dallas but again he had health issues-- missing 4 of the first six games. Jerry Jones had this to say about Fiammetta in late October of the 2011 season:

"He is the best blocking fullback that we've had since Daryl Johnston. That goes a long way. It's very effective," Jones said. "The fullback effectively splits the defense. It lets you block up in there, catch up, man up, with an extra player that you don't have when you're playing with a true prototype fullback. He was a big addition. He is a big addition. We want to keep him healthy. If we can, he'll add a lot to us as we move forward these next 10 ballgames."

But the fact is something was wrong with him. The story continued into November and Tony Fi still wasn't playing when this news came out:

"The increasing cause of worry is that the team's medical unit is still unable to determine the nature of Tony's illness, raising fear that determining the actual problem and treating it properly might take more time than expected.
"It shouldn't be cloaked in mystique," Jones said. "It's hard for him to do some things without nausea or without being incapable of doing them. So he's certainly under the care of a real evaluation. Right now we can't and he can't function the way you have to, to play football. We don't know, that's it."

The speculation was concussions and serious side effects-- dating back to his college days. But the Cowboys refuted that-- insisting there were no new concussion issues. Finally, a story came out (much later) explaining that Tony may have had an inner ear infection and that was the cause of the nausea and the balance issues and the diziness whenever he exerted himself. Finally, Tony returned for 4 games at the end of the 2011 season but reports state that he simply wasn't the same player.

Regardless, it seemed the Cowboys wanted to resign him-- even tendering him an offer in the 2012 off-season as a restricted free agent. But in the end, they landed Lawrence Vickers from FA as their new FB and they let Fiammetta go.

Tony, again, immediately signed with a new team. The Pats scooped him up in in March 2012. He participated in the full off-season program until Aug 5, 2012 when he announced to the team that he needed to stop practicing at training camp and a few days later he was placed on the left squad/reserve list. He sighted "family issues" but there were still some rumblings on heath, etc.

Fiammetta was out the entire 2012 season due to whatever issues he had. As a reserve, however, he was scheduled to return to the team at the start of this off season (2013.) However, he was let go just before the draft and before the Pat's started their off season routine. Tony Fi remained unemployed until June 10th when the Bears signed him after they cut E-Rod.

So the question is this: Is this guy a walking concussion? A FB with concussion issues sounds like the worst possible scenario. We know that Trestman's offense loves the FB and frankly, I think Tony Fi has looked pretty good so far. He'll only get better too, I suspect. The fullback is a role that takes time to perfect at the NFL level. Knowing how to block effectively, which holes to hit, how to set up for your back. You never hear about great rookie FB's...good FB's always seem to develop and mature after like 4 or 5 years-- just the opposite of running backs, I guess.

Did we land a guy who just had some bad luck and bad timing in his first few years, and is now ready to finally develop into a top flight NFL blocking FB like many expected from him when he came out? Or was this just a quick fix to the E-Rod issue and we have a ticking concussion time bomb on our hands?

There could be some interesting FB's hitting the waiver wires over the next week so I wonder what the team really thinks of Fiammetta and if they would be willing to upgrade.

Note: One story-line that I'll be watching closely is in Cincinnati where veteran John Conner (aka The Terminator) who is a monster lead blocking FB (who can actually catch and run fairly well too) is going up against 2nd year Tight End (now coverted to H-Back) Orson Charles. Charles is a very similar player to E-Rod and signing a young talent like that would fit nicely in Trestman's offense. Either one of those guys would really benefit the Bears.

<em>This FanPost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.</em>

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