If you don't hold on to the football in this league, your days are numbered. Running backs, as a group, are watching their stock fall through the floor; instead of looking for the next Eric Dickerson, teams are happy to have a stable of runners who can share carries and provide different looks.
As Greg Schiano pores over film in Tampa, the new Bucs coach has placed a premium on protecting the football. Troubling news for LeGarrette Blount, who's put the ball on the ground nine times in two seasons, losing six fumbles. Schiano praised Blount's ability, but issued the following warning:
"No one who touches the football will get touches if they don't protect the football," Schiano told the Tampa Bay Times this week. "That is one of our core covenants: the ball. It's so important, they named the game after it. So we make a big deal about that thing."
It's no secret the Bucs covet Trent Richardson, the Alabama running back considered the best at his position among those available in next month's draft. Blount is limited in his ability to get outside and a liability in the passing game, with just 20 catches in 22 starts. Richardson's a rare find: the complete three-down back who can catch the ball, pass protect and pose a threat inside and out.
"I've studied a lot of tape on (Richardson). He's a very talented guy," Schiano said. "I met him briefly. I look forward to spending more quality time with him here before the draft. You can't argue with production. ... Trent has done it in what's arguably the toughest league in college football. So he's a special talent."
Depending on what happens with Cleveland's No. 4 pick, Schiano and the Bucs are in good position to nab Richardson one spot later. Unless Schiano's spinning one of the more impressive smokescreens in recent memory, Richardson and the Bucs are a match.