The first thing you notice about Carl Fitzgerald is his colossal size. Huge hands, huge legs, huge chest. He's, well, huge.
At 6-5, 240 pounds, Fitzgerald is nowhere near the biggest of the Blue Bombers but he's the largest man to play his position in these parts since Mike Sellers lined up in the backfield.
Fitzgerald is a project, moving from receiver to H-back (fullback/tight end) but if he can develop he can change the ratio, adding some Canadian-bred smash and skill to the Blue backfield.
The rookie out of Peterborough, Ont., was on the field Thursday with the rest of the incoming class of Blue Bombers as they prepare for the opening of main training camp on Sunday.
A receiver at St. Mary's University, the Bombers selected Fitzgerald in the third round of the CFL draft with an eye to moving him inside.
"He can catch, we saw that on the film, but what we really liked about him was his willingness to be physical," said Bombers offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton. "We don't really have a player like him that can be a fullback/tight-end. He's learning a new position and it's early, but so far it's been good."
Fitzgerald says learning the blocking required to be a successful H-back is both the hardest and most desirable part of the process he's going through.
"Learning the pass protection, that's new for me because I've always been on the outside as a receiver. Now, they have me in the pocket," said Fitzgerald, 23. "Football is the most physical of games and the physical aspect is my favourite part. So I like the blocking part. I like the change to be hitting all the time and to take part in the offence when they call for me to run a route."
Bombers coach Tim Burke says the team would like Fitzgerald to develop into a player similar to Montreal Alouettes fullback Patrick Lavoie.
"Lavoie started out slow, but by the end of the year was in on close to 60 per cent of their offensive plays," said Burke. "We like what Carl brings. He's got good hands and he's tough. That's why he's here."
Lavoie finished last season with 33 catches for 307 yards and four TDs. If Fitzgerald can mirror that sort of production, GM Joe Mack will have hit a home run with this pick.
"I can't wait to put on the Blue and Gold and play a game on this field in front of the best fans in the CFL," said Fitzgerald, who played AAA hockey before turning his focus to football in high school. "I still can't believe I'm here and trying out for a pro football team. It's such a great experience. I want to take advantage of it and make sure it doesn't end."
Crowton's made some major changes to the playbook to try and protect QB Buck Pierce and having a fullback that can handle defensive linemen in pass protection is key.
"We need a guy that can be physical and stand up to D-linemen coming his way," said Crowton. "We're trying to develop him. He's got a big 'ol body and he's physical. We want competition at the position. If he can get there, great. If not, he's going to push the others.
"He reminds me of Dennis Pitta from the Baltimore Ravens, who I had at BYU. He was a receiver and then I fattened him up and moved him inside and now he's doing great in the NFL. Daniel Coats (Denver Broncos) and Ed Dickson did the same thing in Baltimore. He's not going to be a running fullback but a guy that can block the perimeter and still take part in the passing game. Carl should give us some options with his size, his ability to run routes and his hands. He's going to hit people and that's what got him here more than anything else."
Fitzgerald won't be a classic pass-catching tight end but if he can haul down a few tosses and keep Pierce off his back he'll be a very welcome addition to the Blue Bombers.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless
training camp report C6