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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 association football (soccer), baseball, water polo and softball.

In cricket, the term all rounder is used instead, although this generally refers to a player who can both bat and bowl competently.

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Baseball

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 as 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. César Tovar, Cookie Rojas, Bert Campaneris, Shane Halter, and Jose Oquendo all played every position (including pitcher) during their respective careers.

In 2007, Chone Figgins started 96 games at third base, and has established himself as their everyday third baseman since. Prior to that, he'd earned a reputation as the game's most respected utility player. In 2005, he started 48 games at third, 45 in center field and 36 at second, and finished 17th in American League Most Valuable Player balloting. A famous current utility player is Ryan Theriot of the Chicago Cubs, who despite now being their starting shortstop, has played shortstop, third base, second and outfield at some point in his short major league career. As well as the Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge who has played third base, shortstop, second base, catcher, left field, right field, and center field.

In softball, a utility player is a player who can play several positions but can also bat well. Coaches often look for such players to bat as clean-up or 5th in the lineup.

North American football

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, Benny Friedman and Sammy Baugh). 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 McGuire, Cookie Gilchrist, Gino Cappelletti, and others). Because of increased injury risk awareness, since the AFL-NFL merger these types of players are increasingly rare, and true utility players are mostly backups (e.g. Guido Merkens) 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 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 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.

Ice hockey

In ice hockey, positions tend to be somewhat more fluid, and it is not uncommon for centers and wings to shift places in certain circumstances (such as line shuffles), or even to use forwards in place of defencemen in situations such as powerplays.

It is extremely rare for goaltenders to play any position other than goaltender.

Association football

For a more comprehensive list, see: Category:Football (soccer) utility players

In association football, like other sports, the utility man is usually a player who can play a myriad of 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.

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