Tampa Bay Buccaneers look at Earnest Graham as short-yardage option

TAMPA — RB LeGarrette Blount has transformed the Bucs' running game, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the Falcons and averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season.

But coaches are puzzled by his periodic inability to pick up key short-yardage situations. It's a failure that stems not from an inability to power through defenders but rather from indecision at the line of scrimmage, where he appears to be hesitating rather than powering ahead.

Blount failed to convert a key third-and-1 situation in the third quarter Sunday, and now coaches are thinking about involving FB Earnest Graham in short-yardage scenarios.

"We may have to look into a different direction in those situations but while we're still working with (Blount) at the same time," coach Raheem Morris said.

Coaches are still, to some extent, learning Blount's strengths and weaknesses — considering he joined the team in Week 1, after the offseason program and training camp.

"We hope to get LeGarrette Blount out there on third and 1, and he can be the big battering ram that you'd like him to be, a big 250-pound guy who creates a hole," Morris said. "But unfortunately, that might not be him. The only way you find those things out is if you go out there and give him experience and you go out there and try to do it.

"The only thing you can do as a coach is teach him what you want. But the thing he does is, he's a patient runner. Sometimes he makes up things, and sometimes he goes for 17 (yards). But on third and 1, sometimes it frustrates you because you just want him to hit it downfield and get the 2, 3 (yards) that they give you."

That's where Graham comes in. The coaching staff turned its attention to him Monday as a possible solution in short yardage.

"We certainly have a lot of faith in Earnest Graham and what he can do for us, and he's been that (short-yardage) guy in the past," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "Part of (the equation) is the fullback situation and what we're going to do there. But we'll definitely look at that situation."

Blount leads the Bucs with 599 yards rushing in just three starts. His status as the No. 1 running back is not in jeopardy.

More Benn?: The Bucs showed intent to use WR Arrelious Benn in various fashions when they ran an end around and a motion handoff to him. Then, with Benn split wide left, QB Josh Freeman hit him with a quick pass and Benn split two defenders at the line to gain 28 yards to the Falcons 2.

Benn, Olson said, "with the ball in his hands, is an explosive type of runner. Almost running back-like in the way he carries the football. So (we're) just trying to find ways where he's comfortable with what he can do with getting the ball in his hands and running the football. We've got a number of sweeps and quick screens and things like that. We've just got to continue to expand with that because he is a dangerous player."

Slumping?: In his past two games, Freeman has completed 45.9 and 50 percent of his attempts, respectively, while turning in two of his lowest ratings of the season (67.6 and 61.4), against Baltimore and Atlanta. So is he in a slump?

"I wouldn't say (it's a) slump," Morris said. "He just played two really good teams. We played two really good pressure teams. We have to execute better. … His accuracy and his decisionmaking is getting better."

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers look at Earnest Graham as short-yardage option 12/06/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 6, 2010 8:56pm]

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