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Tampa Bay Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount gets chance to start at beginning this season

Rough skies: The massive flag outside of One Buc Place is severely damaged during a thunderstorm.

STEPHEN F. HOLDER | Times

Rough skies: The massive flag outside of One Buc Place is severely damaged during a thunderstorm.

TAMPA — About this time last year, Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount was reporting to camp — with the Titans.

It wasn't until days after the final roster cuts that he joined Tampa Bay, which had claimed him off waivers after his release from Tennessee. And his late arrival was the chief reason it took many weeks for the team's eventual leading rusher to have any meaningful impact.

Although the NFL lockout has robbed Blount of precious preparation, he has a full training camp in which to sharpen his knowledge of the offense.

"Hopefully this will help," he said. "I know that I won't be thrown into the fire so early. I know I have (five) weeks to get prepared for a 16-game season instead of having three weeks of sitting on the bench and the sidelines watching everybody else."

Training camp, Blount said, "is definitely more of a teaching setting. And I'm going to have guys here like last year who can teach me more about the offense."

Blount, who didn't debut until Week 3 last season and had just 21 carries in the first six games, finished with a flurry. He totaled 1,007 yards and was among the leaders of starting backs with 5 yards per carry.

He enters camp presumably as the No. 1 tailback, but Blount is expecting to have to earn his carries. The Bucs have Kregg Lumpkin and Kareem Huggins returning, drafted USC's Allen Bradford and could re-sign Cadillac Williams or another free agent back.

"They're going to be ready to compete and take somebody's job," Blount said. "It's my job to not let them."

And if he does that and plays wire to wire, it's tempting to think about the possibilities.

"I'm very anxious to see what I can do," Blount said. "I'm ready to go out there and actually play 16 games as a starter and rack up as many yards as possible and lead us to victory."

ROOKIE CLASS ROLL: The team continued to plow through signings of its rookie class, reaching deals Thursday with fourth-round pick Luke Stocker, fifth-rounder Ahmad Black and seventh-rounder Anthony Gaitor.

There are high hopes for Stocker, a tight end from Tennessee, whom the Bucs traded up 12 spots for. Look for him to be paired with TE Kellen Winslow in certain sets. Black, a safety from Florida, figures to help on special teams and compete for a spot in the safety rotation. Gaitor, a cornerback from Florida International, will have to fight to make the final roster but is considered a tough-nosed defender who plays bigger than his size (5-10, 177 pounds).

The lone unsigned draft pick is Bradford.

LONG ROAD FOR LONG SNAPPER: LS Andrew Economos, who sustained a ruptured Achilles' tendon in the offseason and had surgery in April, said he has progressed quickly but doesn't know how his injury will affect his place on the roster.

"There's no real concrete time when I'm supposed to be back, but I'm pretty close," he said. "I'm ahead of the curve for sure."

The team signed a pair of long snappers among the 16 college free agents acquired Wednesday.

Getting FLAGGED: For several years an iconic image has greeted visitors upon arrival at One Buc Place: A Bucs flag that is believed to be the largest non-American flag flying in the United States.

But it fell victim to a vicious afternoon thunderstorm Thursday, leaving the flag torn from end to end. Team officials quickly took the flag down.

STICKING UP FOR RUUD: Free agent LB Barrett Ruud seems unlikely to return, but some teammates hope he does.

"I don't know what's going on with Barrett Ruud's situation, but it'd be very disappointing to see him leave," Winslow said. "He's one of our key leaders on this team. I know the guys in that locker room want him back. … We would hate to see him leave."

Tampa Bay Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount gets chance to start at beginning this season 07/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011 9:41pm]
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