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FBs Lex Hilliard, Tommy Bohanon Fight It Out

While it seems that every eye at SUNY Cortland remains fixed on the starting quarterback competition, there's another position battle brewing on the same side of the ball that merits a look.

Two candidates — a rookie and a veteran — have come to Jets camp this season with high hopes of beating out the other for the team's fullback position.

The rookie: Tommy Bohanon, 22, a seventh-round pick out of Wake Forest. He caught 23 passes for five touchdowns as a senior, a trait that could prove to be very useful in OC Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense.

"I pride myself on my hands and I try to do everything I can to catch every ball that comes my way," Bohanon said.

The veteran: Lex Hilliard, 29, a fifth-year incumbent. He finished sixth on the team in special teams tackles despite playing in only 12 of the Jets' 16 contests. It's also impossible to discount the invaluable experience that Hilliard has acquired by playing in 60 career NFL games.

Both fullbacks have received lots of action in the early going of camp. Without RB Chris Ivory, who's sitting out with a hamstring injury, or RB Mike Goodson, who hasn't reported to camp, head coach Rex Ryan has given his fullbacks time in one-back sets.

While the coaching staff has seen what Lex Hilliard can do firsthand, starting nine games with the team last season after joining the squad in Week 5, they are less familiar with Tommy Bohanon.

Bohanon (6'1", 247) lifted his way up teams' draft boards after showing off his upper-body strength on the benchpress at the NFL Combine. He raised the 225 pound bar 36 times, making him the top performer of the 2013 draft class.

Of course, while he acknowledges that muscle mass certainly helps in protecting the quarterback and paving the way for a running back, he understands that relying too heavily on his strength would be a weakness.

"Good technique is the most important thing," Tommy said. "If you don't have good technique you're going to lose, so you've just got to keep working on those fundamentals. You've got to keep everything the same way every time and you'll be able to come out and pass-protect well."

Bohanon often leans on his competitor for some pointers on learning the fullback position. Hilliard makes sure that he does what he can to teach the rookie a thing or two about playing in the NFL when he can help, although he doesn't claim to be an all-knowing master of the game himself.

"If he has questions, I try to answer them," he said, "but at the same time, I'm still learning, too. I try to take a beginner's mentality and try to learn something new every day as far as aspects of the game."

In addition to relying on his teammate, Bohanon feels like he's "progressing well" thanks in large part to running backs coach Anthony Lynn, who simplifies blocking for his backs into three steps: close the distance between yourself and the defender, keep your feet moving, and move side to side.

"He really helped me out there with being able to break it down into steps so you can kind of think about it as you're going," Tommy said, "even though it's a fraction of a second."

Hilliard doesn't let the pressure of a competition interfere with being a good teammate or showing off his own skills.

"You can't really get caught up in that," he said. "It's always a competition. No matter if it's the running back spot, the wide receiver spot, the DBs, it's always a competition. But to be dead set on that, you can't do that, you just have to be focused on performing the best you can."

Fans might want to take their eyes off the QB competition, if only for a second, and set their sights on this fullback competition. Bohanon and Hilliard are both quality backs, but only one will win the starting job.

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