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LeGarrette Blount seeks fresh start with Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA — Ask new Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount to describe himself and he'll quickly and confidently offer an assessment that hardly resembles many people's view of him.

"I'm a big, physical running back," he said Tuesday, a day after he was claimed off waivers. "All my runs are going to be downhill. I get positive yardage, tough yardage, one or two yards here and there when we need it."

Notice he said nothing about being a troublemaker or struggling to control his emotions.

When the Bucs look at Blount, 23, and another new acquisition, Kregg Lumpkin, they see players who can help them fill a void with their bruising running styles.

As for the average fan, well, Blount knows what people think first when his name comes up. Most concentrate on an event that he has all but put behind him, a split-second action that has cost him dearly but one he refuses to let define him.

When Blount, while at the University of Oregon last season, violently punched Boise State's Byron Hout in a postgame fracas, he became a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons. It drew a season-long suspension, and though the Ducks let him return late in the season, Blount's status in the NFL draft was undermined.

He readily admits it's the primary reason he wasn't drafted, even if he doesn't want to linger on the topic.

"That situation, I don't really talk about it anymore," said Blount, signed after the draft by the Titans but released on Sunday. "Most people have forgotten about it. They don't even bring it up anymore. I forgot about how that whole thing went."

The way to make others forget is to be a good citizen and excel on the football field. And that's what Blount is focusing on.

"At this point, it doesn't really matter," he said. "I'm getting my shot. Undrafted or drafted, I'm going to get my shot to be on this football team."

The Bucs aren't yet counting on Blount for those precious yards. Tuesday, coaches repeated their intention to use slasher Cadillac Williams as the featured running back, with scatback Kareem Huggins as a "change-of-pace" runner behind him. But by adding Blount and Lumpkin in the past two days, two things are clear about the Bucs:

For one, they felt their depth in the backfield was inadequate, especially given Williams' history of injuries and Huggins' inexperience. Secondly, they felt they were lacking physicality.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson stopped short of calling this a shift in philosophy for the running game, but he did allow that the Bucs can benefit from a couple of bruisers in the backfield. Blount is 6 feet and 247 pounds. Lumpkin, claimed off waivers from the Packers, is 5-11 and 228.

"It's a big man's game," Olson said. "First of all, it's a 16-game season and there's talk of an 18-game season. It's difficult on smaller-framed bodies to play that position in the National Football League. We've got a real good change of pace guy in Kareem Huggins. We like him and he's a young player. … But we believe it's a big man's game and LeGarrette Blount fits that mold."

But how does he fit in the locker room? Blount spent significant time with the Bucs before the draft as they were among the teams that showed the most interest in him. Asked how he sold himself to the Bucs during his visit to the facility in the spring, Blount said he did his best to be convincing.

"They trusted me when I told them it wasn't going to happen again," said Blount, who had 118 yards on 31 carries in the preseason.

Coach Raheem Morris also had a little inside information. He consulted with a former colleague, Oregon receivers coach and former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost, a member of Morris' defensive staff at Kansas State (Morris was defensive coordinator there in 2006).

The Monday afternoon phone call and seal of approval from Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who was sitting in his office with Blount at the time, reinforced Morris' position. Blount was in Fisher's office to thank him for the opportunity he'd been given.

Recommendations like that, according to Morris, are rare.

"That doesn't happen," he said.

Morris doesn't anticipate trouble from Blount. As for whether Blount and Lumpkin can make significant contributions, the odds are good they'll get the chance.

"(Blount) and Lumpkin answer that question that we'd probably start to get down the road," Morris said. "In this game, you have to have a few big backs in your package and in your stable ready to go. … As we all know, these guys get banged up and get some nicks. You better have somebody who can carry the football down the stretch."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

LeGarrette Blount seeks fresh start with Tampa Bay Buccaneers 09/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 8:41am]
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