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Bucs rookie RB Blount makes most of second chance

TAMPA, Fla. -- LeGarrette Blount's most enjoyable run wasn't when he broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage and dragged two other defenders for a 9-yard gain. Nor was it the fourth-quarter carry he turned into a 46-yard jaunt that was wiped out by a penalty.

It wasn't even a play he made -- it was one by Cadillac Williams.

When Williams caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the closing seconds of Tampa Bay's 18-17 victory Sunday over the St. Louis Rams, the 6-foot, 247-pound Blount sprinted from the bench area to congratulate the veteran he's competing with for playing time.

"It was awesome," said the former Oregon star, who was one of five prospects featured in's On the Fringe during training camp. "Everybody else had their helmets on, so I was afraid I was going to get hit in the head by somebody trying to celebrate with him."

The winning catch, at the end of a 16-play, 81-yard drive, might not have been possible without a breakout performance from Blount, the rookie running back best known for punching an opposing player after a game in college.

Blount, signed the week of the season opener after being released by Tennessee, might have earned an expanded role in the Buccaneers' offense this week against Arizona. He rushed for a career-best 72 yards on 11 carries, including 66 yards on 10 runs in the second half to help Bucs (4-2) overcome a 17-3 deficit.

Blount, 23, went undrafted after being suspended at Oregon for punching Boise State's Byron Hout after a loss in the Ducks' 2009 season opener. He signed with the Tennessee Titans in April and remained with them through training camp and the preseason.

Intrigued by Blount's combination of size, speed, quickness and power and hoping to find a big back capable of sharing playing time with Williams, coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominick were eager to give him a chance to stick with Tampa Bay.

Blount flashed his potential in his pro debut in Week 3, rushing for 27 yards on six carries and scoring his first NFL touchdown during a loss to Pittsburgh. He was less successful the next time out, gaining three yards on four carries in a win over Cincinnati two weeks ago.

The rookie would have had an even bigger day against the Rams if tackle Jeremy Trueblood hadn't drawn a penalty for pushing a defender in the back on his long run up the right sideline.

"You can't say enough about the young man. ... He runs hard, he runs resilient, he runs tough," Morris said. "He's kind of a symbol of our football team. ... He's young, he's in the fight, he's playing fast, he's playing hard. He's learning every single day."

Nevertheless, the coach has been reluctant to use Blount because he's still learning pass protection responsibilities.

Even after Sunday's strong performance, Morris is not ready to thrust Blount into a starting role ahead of Williams, who's averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Blount has averaged 4.9 yards per attempt in the three games he's been active.

"Everybody has a role right now for us, and we're not going to play the game of fighting daggers and throwing stones for who's going to run out of the tunnel," Morris said.

Williams, the 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year who been slowed much of his career by injuries, rushed for 12 yards on four carries against the Rams. He led the team with eight receptions for 34 yards, including the 1-yard game-winner with 10 seconds left.

"You've got to keep getting better. You've got to grow each outing. Yesterday, we showed some growth," Morris said Monday.

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"We showed what we can be by both backs going out there and being productive. One was very productive running the ball and the other was very productive with his pass catching ability and protection abilities. ... Those guys played well together."

The Bucs entered training camp with expectations that former 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Ward would share the workload with Williams.

When Ward struggled during the preseason, he was released. Kareem Huggins earned a shot at filling the role, but injuries took him out of the picture.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson is encouraged by Blount's progress.

"We've always talked about it being a big man's game," Olson said. "He's obviously a big, big person. ... He's got tremendous strength and power, so we're excited. We think he'll get better as we go along."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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