TAMPA — The official NFL statistics say Bucs rookie RB LeGarrette Blount has fumbled three times and lost two, but that's more than he is willing to accept.
Blount had a big game against Seattle on Sunday, rushing for 164 yards on 18 attempts, but he fumbled for the second time in three games. He quickly hopped on the loose ball but doesn't want to be associated with any more fumbles.
"I already have a reputation, and I definitely want to get rid of it," Blount said. "I don't really know how many carries I've had, but … (three) fumbles is a lot. That's the most I've ever had in my career in one season, period. Then again, I've extended my season four or five games (from college). But it's not an excuse. I have to hold on to the football."
This creates a juxtaposition for Blount's coaches. He is a key to the recent offensive success and is 59 yards shy of 1,000 despite starting just six games. So feeding him the ball is tempting despite the perceived fumbling issue. But that doesn't mean it will be ignored.
"We've emphasized it; we recognize it," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "He recognizes it, and we do a lot of things throughout practice that we don't do with other running backs. We allow the scout team players, we allow the defense to grab and punch as he comes through the line of scrimmage. A lot of times that's kind of off-limits as guys are sore and trying to recover.
"But with Blount, we constantly have that going on with him. I just think as he grows older in this league and matures, he'll get better at it. He's a rookie. He doesn't understand the strength of the guys in this league that are punching at the ball, that are hitting him. I think with experience he'll get better."
If Blount can eliminate that concern, there will be no reason to think he can't surpass some of the feats he has achieved. The feeling inside One Buc Place is that Blount's "reputation," as he referred to it, won't stick.
"It's something that he's working on, and he's a prideful player and prideful person," Olson said. "He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and he doesn't like that stigma."
Out of Stylez?: DE Stylez White was replaced in the starting lineup against the Seahawks by Michael Bennett, who could start at New Orleans on Sunday.
White, who hasn't had a sack in the past five games, had started 13 of the previous 14 games. But coach Raheem Morris, also the defensive coordinator, said the starting role will be awarded based on practice performance. White has drawn Morris' ire for his practice habits.
"The level of competition around here, I try to keep it high and try to keep it hot," Morris said. "Thursday practices determine a lot. … So I think when those guys come out and practice the way they practice and play the way they play, you always let the competition keep flowing."
Morris typically has the Bucs practice in pads on Thursdays, allowing him to intensify the competition.
Bennett had not spent any time at right end before last week, when he began taking practice reps at the position. He spent time at all four defensive line positions Sunday.
Maybe later: Morris, who has led the Bucs to at least a six-win improvement over last season's 3-13 record, deflected a question about his candidacy for NFL coach of the year.
"I hate to brush that aside, but those are all accolades you don't care about until you retire, and hopefully I'm far away from that," he said. "I'm more interested in what our team can do if we can qualify and get into this playoff to try and see what we can do from there."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.