Tampa’s secret weapon shines

By Joe Henderson
Updated: November 15, 2010

TAMPA — Defensive backs in the NFL should have learned by now that it isn’t a good idea to go low when trying to tackle Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount.

Hit him higher on his 250-pound body and wait for reinforcements, or just get out of the way. But going for his legs? That’s a sure ticket to play the foil on highlight shows.

With that in mind, we take you to Raymond James Stadium on a spectacular autumn afternoon Sunday.

Blount took a handoff and broke over left tackle from Carolina’s 17-yard line, headed for the end zone. Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble came up to challenge and went low to make the stop.

Flight No. 27, cleared for takeoff. We’ll let Blount take it from here.

“It happened so fast. All of this literally went through my mind: You can cut back and he can reach back and clip you, and you fall. You can jump over his head, but what are the chances of him standing up and me falling awkwardly? I still fell awkwardly anyway.

“I chose to go over the top, hoping to land on my back. Luckily I didn’t get hurt. I probably picked a bad choice, but it worked.”

Blount stretched the ball over the goal line to earn the touchdown in the Bucs’ 31-16 win. It was just the latest in his growing list of highlight plays.

“C’mon man, he jumped and spun and the first thing that touched was the ball across the goal line,” tackle Donald Penn said. “I think he just tries to make top 10 (plays).”

Indeed, we saw him hurdle a would-be leg-tackler two weeks ago at Arizona, so we know Blount can get airborne when he feels the need.

We also know what he can mean to the overall offense. He picked up 91 yards on 19 carries Sunday, and that made it easier for quarterback Josh Freeman to mix play-action passes and distribute the ball to eight receivers and keep things moving.

What we didn’t know was how Blount would handle things after running the wrong way and failing to get a yard on fourth down last week at the end of the game in Atlanta. We soon found out.

“You have to live with a short memory in this league. They told me you can’t dwell on what happened and I’ve bought into that,” he said.

“That’s just how it is. I have to continue to plug forward. I can’t go back in time and get that play back.”

Keeping failure (and success) in the past is an essential job skill in the NFL. We may not have known how he’d handle last week’s disappointment, but his teammates had no doubt.

“He doesn’t let anything bother him. He’s kind of Freeman-ish like that. Things just roll off his back,” cornerback Ronde Barber said.

“Not getting the yard last week in Atlanta, we threw jabs at him all week — ‘One yard, man. You’re 250 pounds, you can’t get one yard?’ But he appreciates his opportunity now and he’s going to do his best to maintain it.”

Blount has been nothing but appreciative since the Bucs hit the lottery by claiming him when Tennessee tried to sneak him through waivers and signed him to the practice squad at the start of the season.

A team desperately in need of a consistent ground game suddenly found it in an undrafted free agent who has 359 yards on 75 carries for a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.

“The thing about Blount is that he can turn a 2 or a 3 (yard gain) into a 5 or 6, and 5 or 6 into 10 or 12,” center Jeff Faine said. “When he gets that first hit, he’s going another 2 or 3 yards.”

Remember the dive for the touchdown? That was just the finishing touch. Blount carried four consecutive times for the last 61 yards of that drive before the score.

Along the way he ripped off a run of 24 yards and a pair for 17. When he is in the game, opponents have to respect and scheme for the things he can do. They should also consider buying flight insurance.

“You definitely have to give him style points. That was a pretty impressive flip, toss, whatever … reach. He’s a very dynamic athlete. I wouldn’t call it conventional. He probably could have just run over the guy, but he has something about him. Great players show that from time to time. He’s showing it now,” Barber said.

“I don’t like clichés, but another person’s trash is our treasure. Right now for us with this guy, that’s for sure.”