TAMPA — LeGarrette Blount is back. Back as the Bucs starting tailback. Back as the third down back. Back as the every down back he hoped to be when the season started.
After missing two games with a left knee sprain, Blount will return to the lineup Sunday against the Saints. More important, with Earnest Graham lost for the season with a torn right Achilles', Blount also will remain on the field on most third down situations.
"Oh yeah, I know I'm going to play third downs in this game," Blount said. "I'm probably not going to play all of them, but I know I'm going to play quite a few of them. I've shown that I know the protections and I know the routes and everything and I can catch the ball, so that's going to help us out tremendously. It's going to let me stay in the game a little bit longer and play a lot more snaps, so I'm excited."
When Blount needs a break, Kregg Lumpkin or Mosis Madu will spell him on third down. But Blount learned he would have more of a role in the offense during the walk-through Tuesday morning.
As for his knee injury, reportedly an MCL sprain, Blount said his recovery was faster than anticipated.
"I feel good. Everything is back in store, everything is where it needs to be," Blount said. "My recovery was a little bit faster than what we thought, so everything is going real well. It's looking good for this week.
"I've been running for the last couple weeks. The fatigue is not going to play a factor in how I perform."
Nobody will benefit more from the return of Blount and the Bucs running game more than quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw four interceptions in a 24-18 loss to the Bears in London.
"He's huge," Freeman said of Blount. "The quarterback's two best friends are first, the defense, and then second, a great running game. Having LeGarrette in there, with the way our o-line is blocking, it's huge."
Freeman said he's proud of how much Blount has improved in the third down role in terms of picking up blitzes, running routes and catching the football.'
"I think LeGarrette is going to get his shot," Freeman said. "We've been talking about it from the preseason. … It's a thing that's always kind of been a monkey on LeGarrette's back. He can do it. We were out there in the walk-through throwing it around and when we got into the pass and the blitzes, he's out there calling the protections and knowing where he's going. It's huge. Huge to see the strides that guy has made."
There's no debating Blount's importance. The Bucs are 3-0 in games in which the former Oregon star has had at least 13 rushing attempts. But Blount also has shown flashes of being a factor in the passing game. He has averaged 14.5 yards on four receptions this year.
"He was starting to develop his third down package before Earnest got injured," coach Raheem Morris said. "But certainly, it helps us increase some of those roles for him. It also gives opportunities to some other people. Mosis Madu … we have the ability to get him in there, as well. We have Lumpkin, too, so we feel pretty good about our running back situation.
"I know it was dire need during the bye week, I listened to it the whole bye week, how we didn't have anybody healthy on the roster and all that stuff. It was great. It was awesome. I had every running back in the nation call me to get a job."