Utility player

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In sport, a utility player is one who can play several positions competently, a sort of jack of all trades. Sports in which the term is often used include football, baseball, rugby, rugby league, water polo, softball and track.

The term has gained prominence in all sports due to its use in fantasy leagues, but in rugby and rugby league, it is commonly used by commentators to recognize a player's versatility.

Association football[edit]

For a more comprehensive list, see: Category:Association football utility players

In football, like other sports, the utility man is usually a player who can play myriad positions. This will be commonly be defence and midfield, sometimes defence and attack. A few outfield players have also made competent substitute goalkeepers, for example Phil Jagielka and Mike Magee. But in the case of goalkeepers playing as outfield players, it is extremely rare. Some may be free kick and penalty specialists (Rogério Ceni, Chilavert and Jorge Campos), but they don't hold a role in the outfield. John O'Shea a former Manchester United player, is a famous example for playing in all positions in his United career. More recently, another Manchester United player, Phil Jones has become a utility player being used as a right back, and centre back as well as taking up both defensive and more attacking midfield roles. In April 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson said Jones could become Manchester Uniteds best ever player due to his versatility and commitment.

Baseball[edit]

In baseball, a utility player is a player who can play several different positions. In general, each major league baseball team has at least one player who can be described as a utility player.

Most professional teams have two types of utility players. There are "utility infielders", who usually play all of the infield positions (plus occasionally catcher). Utility outfielders, or fourth outfielders, tend to play all three outfield positions at various times. Occasionally, there will be players who perform a combination of the two duties. Utility players tend to be players who come off of the bench, though this isn't absolute. Often, players who don't have high prospects to be a major league star will learn additional positions so they can look more attractive to major league clubs as bench talent.

In 1991, the Detroit Tigers' Tony Phillips was the first player to start ten games at five different positions in the same season.[1] César Tovar,[2] Cookie Rojas,[3] Bert Campaneris,[4] Shane Halter,[5] Don Kelly, and Jose Oquendo[6] all played every position (including pitcher) during their respective careers.

In 2005 Chone Figgins started 48 games at third, 45 in center field and 36 at second, and finished 17th in American League Most Valuable Player balloting.[7] Ryan Theriot of the San Francisco Giants has played shortstop, third base, second and outfield at some point in his short major league career. Mark DeRosa for the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Francisco Giants has played most defensive positions. The Oakland A's third baseman Brandon Inge has played third base, catcher, left field, right field, and center field. Second baseman Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays has played first, third, second, shortstop and outfield, and José Bautista of Toronto Blue Jays has played first base, second base, third base, and outfield. Both have been named All Stars while playing multiple positions in their All-Star seasons.[8] Zobrist and Bautista both finished in the top 10 in MVP voting while starting at least 40 games at two different defensive positions.

Basketball[edit]

The term "utility player" is rarely used in basketball outside of fantasy basketball leagues.[9] Instead; basketball uses the terms tweener and swingman to refer to a player who can play two or three different positions, with more specific terms being combo guard, cornerman, and forward-center.

Ice hockey[edit]

In ice hockey, it is common for centres and wingers to play either position in certain situations. Depending on need, a team may use a natural centreman on the wing if they have too many centres or, conversely, a winger may be pressed to play centre because of a lack of suitable players in that area. Because of the frequency of forwards playing both positions, the term utility player tends to refer not to a player that plays more than one forward position, but to a player that can play both defense and forward. Teams may use a defenseman as a forward, or vice versa, for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes a natural defenseman who struggles on the defensive side of the game but possesses strong offensive qualities may be used as a winger. Marc-Andre Bergeron and Kurtis Foster, for example, have proven to be a quality offensive defensemen who struggle in defending their own zone. As such, they have dressed as forwards so their teams can continue to use their offensive abilities on the powerplay while still using the standard six defensemen during even strength.

An extra defenseman may also be pressed to play forward in an emergency situation, where a team has a rash of injuries to their forwards and do not have time to summon a replacement player from a farm team.

It is very common for teams to use a forward on "the point" (defense) during the powerplay to provide a greater offensive threat. Though the forward is playing defense in this situation, they aren't necessarily seen as true utility players.

Along with Bergeron and Foster, other notable defensemen that have played forward at some point in their careers include Phil Housley, Mark Streit,[10] Christoph Schubert, Ian White and Chris Campoli.[11] Notable forwards who have played defense include Sergei Fedorov,[12] Mathieu Dandenault, Brooks Laich and Sami Kapanen.[13]

In some cases a player has made a full-time conversion from one position to the other and experienced success. Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly spent the first half of his career as an offensive defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings before finishing his career as a strong two-way centreman for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wendel Clark was a star defenseman in junior before converting to left wing and scoring over 300 goals and 500 points in 15 NHL seasons. (Some junior hockey teams have a tendency to put their best offensive players on defence instead of as forwards, since defencemen generally have more time on the ice.) Dustin Byfuglien is an example of a current player who has made the switch from forward to defense full-time. Jonathan Ericsson of the Detroit Red Wings is another example of a player who converted from forward to defense.[14]

It is extremely rare for goaltenders to play any position other than goaltender; likewise, it is just as rare for non-goaltenders to suit up in goal, because of the significant difference in skills and equipment required for the position.

North American football[edit]

In gridiron football, the utility player is often capable of playing multiple positions, and often they may play both offense and defense. The concept was far more common in the early days of football, when pro teams used their best athletes as many ways as possible, and substitutions were far more restricted, meaning players had to stay on the field for offense, defense and "special teams". This was known as the one-platoon system.

1907 photograph of Bradbury Robinson, who threw the first legal forward pass and was the sport's first triple threat

The triple threat man, who could run, pass and kick, was particularly popular during the early days of football from the time the forward pass was invented to the World War II era (see, for instance, Bradbury Robinson, Tommy Hughitt, Sammy Baugh and, during his college years, Johnny Unitas). Most levels of football lifted the substitution restrictions during the post-World War II era in the late 1940s, beginning with "platooning" (use of different offensive and defensive units) and eventually transitioning to complete free substitution. Chuck Bednarik, a center and linebacker, was the last full-time two way player in the NFL, having retired in 1962. Despite this, the American Football League of the 1960s frequently used players at multiple positions, particularly kickers and punters (e.g. George Blanda, Paul Maguire, Cookie Gilchrist, Gino Cappelletti, and Gene Mingo, a running back who became the first black placekicker in modern professional football, among others). Because of increased injury risk awareness, since the AFL-NFL merger these types of players are increasingly rare, and true utility players usually end up specializing in one position (for example, Lane Johnson played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and offensive tackle through college but was tagged specifically at offensive tackle when drafted into the NFL). Those that do play multiple positions for any extended period of time are mostly backups (e.g. Guido Merkens, Brad Smith) or career minor-league players (e.g. Don Jonas, Eric Crouch). It is still very common in smaller high schools to see top players play two or even three ways (offense, defense and special teams), in multiple positions, but in college and pro ball, where rosters are larger and the talent pool is more elite, the injury risk outweighs potential benefits.

Currently, in the National Football League, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots uses the utility player frequently. For instance, Doug Flutie, as a former member of the Patriots, famously switched from quarterback to kicker for one extra-point play in 2006, to deliver the first drop kick in the NFL in sixty years. Belichick has also used his linebackers, including Bryan Cox and Mike Vrabel, as H-backs on offense, and doubled his wide receivers (e.g. Troy Brown and Randy Moss) as cornerbacks and safeties.

The tackle eligible is a special form of utility player; examples of those who used this play notably include Jason Peters, Warren Sapp, Jumbo Elliott, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Mitch Frerotte and Anthony Muñoz. Another example of a type of utility player is the halfback option play, in which a running back performs the passing duties of a quarterback; Walter Payton, LaDanian Tomlinson and most recently Ronnie Brown have used this play multiple times, and this type of play has spawned an entire offensive scheme. Note that generally, a player who plays one regular position as well as special teams is usually not considered a utility player, nor are hybrid running back/wide receivers such as Reggie Bush; only those who play two distinct offensive and/or defensive positions are considered such, as are those who play an offensive or defensive position and in addition kick or punt.

The "offense/offensive weapon" (also known as OW) is an offensive player that can play multiple different positions. The OW role contains, but is not limited too, players that can play quarterback, running back, tight end, and wide receiver. Kordell Stewart was the first player to use this role back in the 1990s, but it became popular in the early 2010s. Back when Stewart played this role, it was known as the "Slash" role. The Jacksonville Jaguars' OW Denard Robinson was the first to be officially an OW but other current examples of the OW position is the Minnesota Vikings' WR, Joe Webb (has started at QB in the NFL), and the Cleveland Browns' H-back, MarQueis Gray (who started at QB and WR at the University of Minnesota).

The Arena Football League, for many years, made almost all of its players, with the exception of two players on each side (always a quarterback, a kicker {the quarterback and kicker were never on the field at the same time} and usually a wide receiver and two defensive backs), play both sides of the ball; this was known as "ironman." The "ironman" concept was dropped in 2007, but is expected to be reinstated when Arena Football 1 takes over the league in 2010.

Rugby league[edit]

The use of utility in rugby league is more expansive because not only would a player play only at backs' (or forwards') positions, some may play in forward and back positions with similar roles (e.g. halfback/hooker), or even play so many different positions as injury cover. Lance Hohaia is a prime example of this as he played in six different positions in his NRL career.

Rugby union[edit]

Utility player is a term used mostly in New Zealand. In rugby union, it comes in a form of utility back. It is mostly a back who can cover at least two positions. Notable examples in New Zealand include Daniel Bowden, Luke McAllister and Cory Jane, but Australia also has many utility backs like Adam Ashley-Cooper, Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau.

Despite that, there are forwards who are capable of covering multiple positions. Many players in the back row of the scrum (flankers and number eights) will frequently switch between the two positions. Less often, a player may also be capable of playing lock as well as a back-row position, with a notable modern example being Sébastien Chabal, who has played internationally as both a lock and a back-rower. However, this description never applies to props who can play both ends of the front row (i.e. Numbers 1 & 3), unless the player has the ability to cover as a hooker (e.g. John Afoa).

Fantasy sports[edit]

In fantasy baseball and basketball, a utility player is a player (specifically a batter in baseball) who accumulates statistics without being assigned to a particular position. The batter can play any position; he need not actually be a utility player (for example, if a fantasy manager has two first baseman, he can assign one to the first base position and one to a utility slot). Similarly, a person assigned a utility slot in fantasy basketball need not be a tweener or swingman.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kent, Milton (1994-04-29). "Stretching One's Earning Power". The Baltimore Sun. 
  2. ^ "Cesar Tovar Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  3. ^ "Cookie Rojas Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  4. ^ "Bert Campaneris Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  5. ^ "Shane Halter Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  6. ^ "Jose Oquendo Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  7. ^ "Chone Figgins Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  8. ^ "José Bautista - Toronto Blue Jays - Career Statistics - MLB". Yahoo.com. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  9. ^ Fantasy basketball, fantasybasketballmoneyleagues.com, October 14, 2013, retrieved 2013-10-14 
  10. ^ "Versatile Streit makes it look easy with Habs". Canada.com. 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  11. ^ "Campoli making forward move - Ottawa Senators". NHL.com. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  12. ^ http://www.dispatch.com/live/contentbe/dispatch/2007/03/16/20070316-B4-02.html[dead link]
  13. ^ "Hartford Whalers Legends: Sami Kapanen". WhalersLegends.blogspot.com. 2009-06-07. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  14. ^ http://www.redwingscentral.com/prospects/ericsson.php[dead link]