Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

 

Blount wipes slate clean with hard-running style for Buccaneers

  • By Jeff Darlington NFL.com
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The grass-stained uniforms had already been picked up; the pads and equipment were almost entirely packed away. His last teammate took off 20 minutes earlier, but LeGarrette Blount remained. He was in no rush.

The Bucs running back still wore a towel as he sat by his locker at 1:07 a.m., with no reason and no desire to move as quickly as he did an hour before on a 35-yard touchdown that gave his team a 24-17 win against the Indianapolis Colts.

Was he alone? Well, yes, you could have called it that -- but only if you didn't understand Blount's personal interpretation of loneliness. By that standard, this was nothing more than a chance to keep soaking up a memorable game.

"No turning back now," said Blount, who rushed for 127 yards in his first primetime game as a pro.

This was a big night for Blount, one that led the second-year star to open up in that empty locker room about many things, including a past defined by a punch he threw at the end of Oregon's loss to Boise State on national television in 2009.

Do you remember that post-game punch? The slug that knocked out Byron Hout and fueled a decision to suspend Blount for his final season at Oregon? The one that sent his draft stock into a spiral so tight that no team would spend a pick on him?

Here's what you don't know about it: "I was in a depression for a long time," Blount said. "I was at a point where I didn't come out of my house for a month. Literally didn't walk outside. I might have let five people into my house during that whole month after the incident. I wasn't embarrassed to show my face or anything, but I just felt like everybody was against me."

The span between that primetime game on Sept. 3, 2009, and Monday's season-high performance has provided Blount with a perspective that has changed his life, he says. He thought he threw away his career. Really, he very nearly did.

As was evidenced with last season's 1,007-yard performance -- and affirmed with Monday's game-changing performance -- Blount is now managing to rebuild it.

"He definitely had a self-inflicted wound to put him in that situation," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "But his talent is freakish. You don't find guys who look like that, who run like that. The rest of the league's loss is our gain, man."

After striking out in the 2010 NFL Draft, Blount signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent. He was placed on waivers in September and claimed by the Bucs. Barber says hooking up with Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris was a key step in the rehabilitation of Blount's image.

"I honestly believe LeGarrette is in the right situation," Barber said. "He's with a coach who can deal with him, a coach who understands who he is and is going to let him be him. He's relishing the role."

Blount is known to be a bit aloof, but definitely not a troublemaker. Yes, his coaches often need to simplify his role on offense (something that has restricted his ability to become more than a big-play power back) -- but the lack of a quick learning curve also has nothing to do with the reputation he's known for.


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Wide receiver Mike Williams, who has become one of Blount's closest friends, said the Bucs used to joke with Blount about the punching incident, telling the running back that he wouldn't be able to bring his "tough guy stuff" around the locker room. The group can laugh about it now, showing how close this young core of players has become.

"That incident took a whole bunch of money out of my pocket," Blount said. "I got the opportunity to come here and prove that I'm a first-round talent."

With salaries of $320,000 last year and $405,000 this year, Blount missed out on millions, since he was originally slated as an early selection. Even the Bucs originally graded him as a second- or third-round talent, but his off-the-field history made him too much of a risk for a high pick.

Blount is scheduled to hit restricted free agency, so his time to get paid could be coming soon. After suffering the financial pitfalls of a career nearly gone completely bad, that possibility is something that should motivate him to produce more than a few big games this year.

But more importantly, Blount now understands how quickly all of this can be taken away. It's the reason why he takes his time getting ready to leave the stadium, why he's in no rush to let these moments fade.

Blount learned the hard way about how a fast-acting mistake can derail a bright future. But he also realizes how bright that future can still be. And Monday's primetime debut provided the perfect place to prove it.

"I had doubts for a long time," Blount said. "Actually, I have no idea when I felt like I'd get the chance again. I eventually got it, and now it's time to run with it like never before."

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