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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' LeGarrette Blount surprises with his athleticism

TAMPA

One glance at LeGarrette Blount is all it takes to notice the superhero-sized muscles and shoulders as wide as a boulevard. The Bucs running back and rookie sensation in the making is, after all, a rock-hard 247 pounds on his 6-foot frame. As a runner, he is powerful and intimidating. And nimble. Who knew a player so renowned for delivering punishment could be so fleet of foot? The more Blount plays, and the more Tampa Bay fans watch him, the more he reveals the depths of his game. No play was more emblematic of his diverse abilities than his late 48-yard run against the Cardinals on Sunday, the one on which he high-hurdled Arizona safety Kerry Rhodes before sticking a perfect landing and nearly outrunning cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of the fastest players in the NFL.

"I definitely like having that ability," said Blount, who finished the game with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. "Being versatile is definitely a good thing in this league. The most versatile backs are always the smaller guys. Me being 250 pounds and being able to do some of the things they can still do — maintain my speed on long runs, make moves in the open field, use my vision to get where I need to go — it definitely helps … and it's definitely a big part of my game."

Imagine the surprise of the 212-pound Rhodes — he dived at Blount's legs presumably to avoid a helmet-rattling collision — when the running back cleared him with his leap without losing a step. What Rhodes and most defenders probably don't realize is Blount would prefer to avoid the collisions, too. And given his ability to move laterally (and vertically) with ease, he has options that don't involve vicious impacts.

Asked whether he prefers to run through or around a tackler, Blount answered unambiguously.

"I prefer to run around them because as a running back, your body can only take so many hits," he said. "I'd rather take the extra hit off my body. But if I had to, I wouldn't think twice about running over a guy."

Coach Raheem Morris isn't surprised by Blount's athleticism. He cited the many clips on the Internet that show Blount leaping over college opponents while at Oregon. But Morris knows backs Blount's size aren't usually associated with his sort of athletic feats.

"If you go back and look at his college tape, you see it wasn't the first person he jumped over," Morris said. "And it probably won't be the last."

Think of it, Morris said, sort of like the turbo button on a Madden video game. "It's his 'B' button," Morris joked. "It's kind of funny. … He's an athlete. He does a lot of things that are shocking."

So much so that apparently even Blount, 23, has to see them to believe them. Asked whether he has watched the replay of his leap over Rhodes, Blount smiled.

"A whole bunch of times," he said. "… I might rewind it occasionally. Maybe once or twice."

At this rate, there will be future highlights to appreciate. Blount has played extensively in just two games, but already he is fourth among rookies in rushing yards (222) and second to Detroit's Jahvid Best in touchdowns (three).

And the Bucs have been nothing but thrilled with his character to this point, something teams had reason to doubt given his infamous punch of a Boise State player last year while at Oregon.

That character was evident to the Bucs even before they claimed him off waivers from the Titans in September. In March, when the Bucs were holding prospect visits at One Buc Place, "he came up to sit in my office (and) may have been one of three guys out of 30 that wore a full suit," general manager Mark Dominik said.

Blount continued to distinguish himself at dinner that evening.

"Two days later I was down in the cafeteria and I saw the chef and I (said), 'How did it go?' " Dominik recalled. "He said, 'I didn't really notice a lot of them, but … there was one guy who actually walked around to every one of my employees and said thank you.' It was LeGarrette Blount."

These days, Blount isn't being nearly as reticent. He talks of how opponents struggle with their approach to tackling him.

"I think sometimes they're surprised (at my agility)," said Blount, who grew up in the north Florida town of Madison. "A lot of big linebackers want to come downhill and come with a full head of steam on a big running back like me. Usually, with them coming so fast, they're not going to be able to stop. So, I sidestep them."

Blount is so competitive he will even take on the good guys.

"I think I'm faster than most of our (defensive backs)," he says, only half-joking. "That's a challenge to whoever wants to step up."

Perhaps he will find some takers for that challenge, so long as they don't have to tackle him.

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' LeGarrette Blount surprises with his athleticism 11/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 12:30am]

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