Titans' Blount in a roster fight after punching ticket out of draft


TEMPE, Ariz. -- LeGarrette Blount is pretty much all talk these days. Had that been the case 10 months ago, he might not be working so hard to convince people he’s this or that; he would have proven it by now, using his size, skill and speed to show he was worthy of being one of the top running backs taken in the NFL draft.

Instead, in one of the most infamous meltdowns seen in recent athletic lore, Blount opted against diplomacy and cold-cocked trash-talking Byron Hout of Boise State after the Broncos’ season-opening upset of Blount’s Oregon Ducks. The punch set off a series of temper outbursts from the running back, who was suspended by Oregon and suffered even greater consequences by going undrafted in April.

Blount is in a much better place now -- with a team, the Tennessee Titans, that needs him as much as he needs it.

NFL.com is following five players hoping to be one of their team's final 53. Here are their stories as they strive to hold on to their NFL dreams.

The Players:

» Gary Banks
A two-sport star, Banks -- on the practice squad for two years -- could be getting one last shot.

» LeGarrette Blount
Blount punched an opponent -- and his ticket out of the draft. Now, he seeks redemption.

» Alex Boone
Boone went from battling defensive ends to fighting alcoholism and the law.

» Ricky Foley
This former decathlete and CFLer is out to prove he can play with the big boys of the NFL.

» Cody Grimm
The son of Hall of Famer Russ Grimm has had to scrap for everything in his football life.

“He has some unique skills that are different from the others on our roster,” said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who lobbied hard to have Blount signed as a free agent after the draft. “He is a big and strong runner and has the ability to get those tough yards for us.”

Everything right now is conjecture. Blount has barely practiced with the Titans because of a graduation rule that kept him away and training in Arizona until mid-June. So his words, instead of his play, are all we have to go on at this point. And to some, specifically the San Francisco 49ers, his word is hardly enough to take to the bank.

He initially agreed to sign with the 49ers as a free agent but he changed course after Fisher convinced him the situation in Tennessee was perfect for him.

“I know I’m one of the best running backs in this year’s draft,” said Blount, 23, between workout sessions at Champions Training Center in Tempe. “There’s not many running backs that’s 240 pounds in the NFL that can run like I run and that can do all the things athletically. I’m just excited to show everyone that I still have it. Being that I missed out on the whole season almost, I didn’t really showcase much. This is what I want to bring to the table and show everyone that I still have it just like I did in ’08.”

In 2008, when Blount was a junior at Oregon after spending two seasons at East Mississippi Community College, he rushed for 1,002 yards (7.3 yards per carry) while sharing touches with Jeremiah Johnson. He was poised to be the star of the team as a senior. Instead, he played in just three games –- the season opener against Boise State and the final two, including the Rose Bowl, after being reinstated for meeting team and university guidelines. In all, he gained 82 yards on 22 carries.

“All this stuff just let me know that any mistake that’s caught in the public eye can have everything stripped from you in just a split second,” Blount said.

Though Blount is still upset about not being drafted, he could not have fallen into a better situation. The Titans traded short-yardage back LenDale White to Seattle and need a pile mover like Blount. Although he arrived to spring workouts late, he’s received an abundance of catch-up reps because All-Pro starter Chris Johnson is AWOL with a contract dispute.

As happy as Blount is about ending up with the Titans, Fisher is equally as giddy. The coach has a high-reward, low-risk (i.e. potential big-time production/minimum financial commitment) prospect in Blount, who looks taller and leaner than his 6-foot, 240-pound frame.

“He needs to have a great summer getting up to speed and in top condition so he can have a productive season,” Fisher said.

There seems to be little doubt that Blount is in a good spot to make the 53-man roster and, if he pans out, the active 45-man game-day roster. Blount is no sure thing, though. If teams saw all of this in him, why didn’t anyone draft him, even with a sixth- or seventh-round pick?

"Every team that I’ve ever been on had three or four running backs and I’ve always emerged as one of the best ones."

-- LeGarrette Blount

“Character issues were a big concern for a lot of people,” Blount candidly acknowledges, “and me being suspended indefinitely for the season was kind of a red mark for a lot of teams.”

People around the league say character issues were major red marks –- and not just for the Boise State incident. Blount had been suspended previously at Oregon for missing meetings, poor work habits and attitude. That doesn’t go over well in the NFL and it’s why Blount is going to have to prove himself with more than words and his legs to stick.

During interviews at the Senior Bowl and combine, Blount says he was asked more about his commitment to the game than the dubious straight right.

“I basically told everyone that coming off of my junior season, it got to me ... I just thought that I was the big man on campus,” Blount said. “They had my jersey up in the stores ... I’m used to being the best player on the team, but there was never as much publicity as there was at Oregon. They didn’t have my jersey in the stores at (East Mississippi CC) and in high school. So I let it get to me. On top of that, my girlfriend was pregnant, so it was kind of like, ‘I’m LeGarrette, why do I have to go to everything?’ It just caught up to me.”

If Blount makes the Titans' final 53-man roster, what’s to say he won’t get comfortable again? The one thing he and a lot of rookies have yet to learn is that there is a waiver wire and other players become available daily who can take their place.

Blount believes he’s learned a valuable lesson and won’t fall back into old habits.

“I’ve experienced it, I know the consequences, I know what can happen,” he said. “I’m happy I got it out of the way before I got into the NFL. If that happens in the NFL, you don’t get paid, you get fined, you get cut.”

Said Fisher: “We were all concerned but I think the university handled his situation appropriately and he responded by meeting all of the landmarks that were placed in front of him in return. We had discussions with him and his family to get a sense of where he was and how he handled things since the incident and we felt it was behind him.”

Blount said he has been baited and teased since the Boise State incident, and even some of the most seemingly innocent comments have put him in situations where he’s been forced to politely walk away. He understands those types of comments won’t soon disappear, on or off the field.

“I’m going to have all kinds of things said to me,” Blount said. “I’m going to get teased about it. People are going to bring it up and try to push my buttons to see if I’ll get mad or react the same way again. And I can honestly say that I won’t. I’ve seen what it’s done to me so why would I react like that again?

Gary A. Vasquez / National Football League
Though he's in a good situation with the Titans, LeGarrette Blount still carries a chip on his shoulder over not getting drafted.

“I’ve been out and people have asked me to take pictures of them with my fists up like I’m going to punch them. Of course, I say no. They ask me about the incident and I just say I don’t want to talk about it. It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it. If I had that moment back I wouldn’t react that way. I know I’m going to get the worst trash talk of any rookie this season and I have to prepare myself for it.”

More than anything, Blount is going to have to play football at a high level, on special teams and at running back. Currently, there are five running backs on the Titans roster. Last year, Tennessee entered training camp with seven backs, so one or two could be added to the mix before rookies report to Nashville on July 31.

Johnson is first in line. Second-year tailback Javon Ringer is in the team’s plans and he’s worked hard not to lose the few touches he’s set to receive this season. USC rookie Stafon Johnson also is in camp after recovering from a frightening neck injury that cost him most of his senior season.

None have Blount’s measurables or skill set. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a minute he doesn't have to compete.

“Every team that I’ve ever been on had three or four running backs and I’ve always emerged as one of the best ones,” Blount said. “I’ve never been in a battle like this. I know it’s going to be tough, but I’m in it to come out on top again.”