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In 2011, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount will broaden his appeal and repertoire

Running back LeGarrette Blount, practicing his specialty on the second day of camp, will get chances to be more than a first-down back in his second year.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Running back LeGarrette Blount, practicing his specialty on the second day of camp, will get chances to be more than a first-down back in his second year.

TAMPA

The shoulders are wide. The legs are long. The muscles are everywhere.

From a distance, LeGarrette Blount looks imposing. Up close, he can be downright scary.

His first season in the NFL was like a director's cut of a head-swiveling action movie. Linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks in pieces all over the screen.

And for his encore?

In 2011, Blount goes tender.

Okay, maybe tender is an exaggeration. His will still be a game of power moves and lowered shoulders. He will hit holes and anyone bold enough to stand in front of them.

But it is Tampa Bay's intention to broaden Blount's appeal. To expand his repertoire. To at least give the impression they might actually pass the ball when he's in the game.

The plan is not to turn Blount into some slick, change-of-pace back, but to keep defenses from overloading the line of scrimmage whenever he enters the huddle.

It doesn't have to be a 50-50 split between runs and passes. It doesn't even have to be close. The Bucs just need to plant a little seed of doubt when Blount is in the game.

"The whole idea of this camp is to get him to a point where he is not just a first-down back," said running backs coach Steve Logan. "He's got to become a second-down back, and in some cases a third-down back. We've got to show on film that on third down he can be in the game to either run draws or pass routes, or stay in for pass protection.

"Once we put that on film, that tendency is no longer valid for the defenses."

It's not like this was a huge problem last season. There was zero fear of Blount catching the football out of the backfield in his rookie year, and he still managed to top 1,000 yards.

It had been a dozen years since an NFL running back had gained more than 1,000 yards while catching five passes or fewer. And to find a back who pulled that off while averaging better than 5.0 yards a carry, you have to go back to Dolphins legend Larry Csonka in 1972.

In other words, Blount is a unique load. A stop-me-if-you-can running back.

At nearly 250 pounds, he looks like a runaway train when he has enough room to accelerate. And that doesn't include the moments when he leaps over tacklers.

"I don't know how you can't like the guy's running style," said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. "He's fun to watch. He's such a physical runner with the ball in his hands. The leaps are impressive.

"Even as a coach, you're in the middle of the game and it's like 'Whoa!' Everyone is on the headsets saying, 'Did you see that?' "

The Bucs don't want to change what makes Blount special. They just want to make it easier on him, and in the process, make the offense more diverse.

Of Blount's 206 touches last season, 97.5 were on runs. And 95.5 of those runs were on first or second down.

Think of a pitcher who lives and dies with his fastball. A basket­ball player whose game is parked on the 3-point line. That's Blount.

Most of that is a product of his particular style. But some of it had to do with timing. Because Blount didn't arrive until the end of training camp, he had little time to learn the offense, so his playbook was kept basic.

What the Bucs are hoping in the next month is that he can become proficient enough in pass protection that they can safely allow Josh Freeman to take an occasional shot downfield when defenses load the box against Blount.

"With a full training camp under my belt, I should be able to learn all the pass protections, learn all the blitzes and everything else defenses are going to throw at me," Blount said. "I kept a notebook last season, and I studied it in the offseason to stay fresh."

Even if Blount continues to improve on pass protection, the majority of third-down snaps will still go to another running back. Cadillac Williams played that role last season, and coach Raheem Morris is holding out hope the free agent will return soon.

The key with Blount is expanding the options. Making teams wary of the pass on first down. Giving them different personnel packages on third down. In essence, keeping one of Tampa Bay's top weapons on the field as much as possible.

"The first thing we asked him when he reported in the building was 'How are you doing with your protections?' " Olson said. "He had a big smile and said 'Coach, I'm fine. I'm good.' We'll put him in there. With him this year, it will be more a matter of want-to, and I think he wants to be the guy that plays a lot more.

"He's a prideful kid. He knows he can't just be going in there on running downs. He doesn't want that loaded box every time he's in the backfield."

In 2011, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount will broaden his appeal and repertoire 07/30/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 31, 2011 12:26am]

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