TAMPA — Once you've had even a glimpse of massive Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount, the idea that he might not be the team's best option in short-yardage situations defies logic.
With 250 pounds of brute force, how could he not?
The reality is while Blount revels in running through defenders and is a physical runner in the open field, the rookie says he never has been asked to carry the ball straight ahead in short-yardage situations.
That's because his background is in the sideline-to-sideline spread offense he played in while at the University of Oregon. That offensive philosophy is contrary to NFL running games, particularly the power running game the Bucs employ.
So while it might be surprising to see Blount get tackled for a loss on third and 1, remember, this is all new to him.
"You don't take the ball and go downhill at Oregon," Blount said. "You take the ball and go lateral. Then, when you see an opening, that's when you get vertical. That helped me a lot with being patient."
It's a quality that has served him well at times, allowing blocks to develop, then slamming into available crevices. But that's not the idea when all that stands between the Bucs and the end zone is 36 inches.
It's a lesson that has been hard to learn for Blount. On Sunday in a 28-24 loss to the Falcons, he tiptoed toward the line of scrimmage in a key third-and-1 situation in the third quarter and ended up stopped for no gain. In the fourth quarter, he was dropped for no gain in a first-and-goal situation from the Falcons 2.
And, in the most memorable example, Nov. 7 at Atlanta, Blount failed to get a first down on fourth and inches from the Falcons 2 with 2:44 left despite a huge hole created by guard Davin Joseph. The Bucs lost 27-21.
There have been similar situations in recent weeks that have prompted Bucs coaches to consider using other options in short-yardage scenarios. The most likely alternative is Earnest Graham, provided coaches feel comfortable taking him out of the fullback role in those instances.
Blount said he won't take offense if changes are made.
"It's just a completely different game in short-yardage situations," he said. "If (coaches) went with Earnest or Cadillac (Williams) in those situations, it wouldn't bother me at all because I haven't been getting the job done."
Given Blount's success in invigorating the Bucs' once-dormant running game — he has had two 100-yard rushing performances in his first nine pro games — he has made it easy to forget the enormous transition he's still making from college.
At Oregon, Blount said, the playbook doesn't include any power running plays. The I-formation doesn't exist. The quarterback is not under center — ever. Practically nothing about the scheme resembles anything in the Bucs' playbook.
"It's a different philosophy for him," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "There are a lot of things that he's learning as he goes. He'll get better. As we've said, he was not here for training camp, and we were happy that we were able to get him. We got him late, but we were certainly happy that we have him here and we're excited about his future."
When the Bucs aren't in short-yardage situations, Blount said it has made for an easier transition because he can use both his assets: size and vision.
"As a big running back, everybody thinks I just get the ball and go downhill and break tackles," he said. "But in the NFL you can't do that. Everybody's just as good as you are. You have to be patient and you have to make your reads, and you're going to have to go through your progressions."
The Bucs believe Blount can progress and become a short-yardage back, just as he has shown growth in pass protection and in picking up blitzes, a distinct weakness upon his arrival.
"The kid's done nothing but show progress since he's been here," coach Raheem Morris said.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]