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May 25, 2012 @ 10:02 pm
Current rating: 4.40 Stars/5 Votes

Pewter Pulse 5-25

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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LeGarrette Blount may have a stronger grip on the starting running back job in Tampa Bay than you might think. Josh Freeman and the Bucs QBs have been practicing unorthodox throwing styles on purpose this offseason. Ball security is the rage in practice at One Buccaneer Place this spring under Greg Schiano. Read all about it in this week's FREE edition of the Pewter Pulse.
The Pewter Pulse often appears on Fridays during the offseason as Scott Reynolds offers up his weekly insight, analysis and the latest inside scoop on the Buccaneers. This column is typically part of PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider premium content, but this week's edition is a FREE sample so that all can Bucs fans can read the analysis and observations about the Bucs' offseason workouts.

The selection of Boise State running back Doug Martin means that he will automatically be Tampa Bay’s starting running back in 2012 over incumbent LeGarrette Blount in the minds of some Bucs fans and even some in the media. All of a sudden, Blount is the most egregious fumbler in the league and the worst receiving back in the NFL.

Not so fast.

Let’s set the record straight regarding his fumbles. According to NFL.com, Blount was credited with five fumbles last year – three of which turned into turnovers when the defense recovered the loose balls. The NFL gave the blame for a mishandled exchange at Carolina last year between Blount and Josh Freeman to the quarterback when the Panthers recovered the fumble, but televised replay clearly shows that Blount failed to squeeze the ball after Freeman placed it in his arms.

So if you want to say that Blount fumbled six times and lost four of them, that’s fine. And that is six too many for new head coach Greg Schiano’s liking.

However, Schiano is giving Blount – and every Bucs player – a clean slate, in addition to teaching the Bucs’ current leading rusher and his teammates a lesson in holding the ball a new way with a high-and-tight grip that is designed to eliminate fumbling. While Blount has yet to rush for a single yard in 2012, he has yet to fumble the ball, too.

It is true that Blount is not too experienced in the passing game when it comes to being used as a receiver or picking up blitzes because he wasn’t asked to do those things at Oregon. But he did make significant strides in that area last year, catching 15 passes for 148 yards (9.9 avg.) with a career-high 35-yard reception. As a rookie in 2010, Blount caught just five passes for 14 yards (2.8 avg.).

Throw in the fact that even during a down year from his NFL debut in which he rushed for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry in only 13 games (with seven starts), and Blount still averaged 4.2 yards per carry en route to amassing 781 yards and five scores in 14 contests in 2011. Blount’s 4.6-yard career average over two years is higher than that of Michael Pittman (4.2 avg.), Warrick Dunn (4.0 avg.), Mike Alstott (3.7 avg.), Errict Rhett (3.5 avg.) and Reggie Cobb (3.5 avg.) in Tampa Bay.

Blount is not a bad back at all, and the Bucs don’t necessarily want him replaced in 2012 or even in the future. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik grew up outside of Kansas City and got his first NFL job working as a scout for the Chiefs – a team he grew up watching along with his childhood favorite Pittsburgh Steelers. Like it was years ago in Pittsburgh with Franco Harris and Rocky Belier in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and as it was in the early 1990s in Kansas City with Christian Okoye and Barry Word, the NFL has gotten back to being a two-back league.

In 1989, Okoye led the league in rushing with 1,480 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 4.0 yards per carry. In 1990, Okoye rushed for 805 yards and seven scores on 245 carries (3.3 avg.) in an injury-plagued season, but rebounded in 1991 by rushing for 1,031 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

While Okoye was banged up in 1990, Word emerged as the leading rusher with 1,015 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry despite 41 fewer touches. In 1991, Word served as a great complement to Okoye, rushing for 684 yards and four touchdowns on 160 carries (4.3 avg.).

The difference between the present day NFL and the NFL of yesteryear in terms of the need for two starting-caliber running backs is that the league has become so pass-oriented in the 2000s that the backs must become more proficient in the nuances and intricacies of the passing game. When Harris and Okoye ruled the day in their respective eras, the NFL was much more ground-oriented and offenses were built around three yards and a cloud of dust.

But that’s the kind of offense Schiano wants to build in Tampa Bay. With defenses gearing up to stop the passing game and the slew of great quarterbacks currently dominating the NFL these days by moving to 3-4 schemes and putting the emphasis on building defenses around shutdown cornerbacks and fast, pass-rushing defensive linemen, the Bucs hope to go against the grain and take advantage of the fact that defenses aren’t designed to really stop the run from a ground-and-pound attack.

While the 5-foot-9, 223-pound Martin is a Ray Rice clone with the strength to break tackles and the quickness to elude them, the 6-foot, 247-pound Blount has the muscle to bust through would-be tacklers and the agility to jump over them. In fact, Blount may be better suited to be the starter to wear down defenses initially and then let speedier Martin complement him as a change-of-pace back and a back that can operate better on obvious passing downs.

Starting Martin may limit the times and places Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan can use Blount, and that approach may actually become counterproductive. It will be up to Blount to keep the starting job by performing well, and that’s what he was trying to say to the media during the OTAs.

Blount is a prideful player, and sometimes that comes across as being boastful, but wouldn’t you want a running back that has a ton of confidence as opposed to one that is lacking in that department? Blount has designs on being Tampa Bay’s leading rusher, but he has no problems with Martin being on the roster. Martin has already said that he has no issue teaming with Blount and following his lead.

The only concern about Martin may have been the fact that he averaged 4.94 yards per carry for the Broncos while other premier running backs in the 2012 NFL Draft had a much better rushing average. Alabama’s Trent Richardson averaged 5.93 yards per carry, Virginia Tech’s David Wilson had a 5.89-yard per carry average, Cincinnati’s Isiah Pead averaged 5.31 yards per carry, Utah State’s Robert Turbin had a 6.09-yard average, Miami’s Lamar Miller averaged 5.6 yards per carry, San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman averaged 5.50 yards per carry and Oregon’s LaMichael James led the nation with a 7.31-yard average on 247 carries.

Now here’s what the Bucs really like about Martin’s game – his consistency. Martin rushed for 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns on 263 carries, while catching 28 passes for 255 yards and a pair of scores as a senior. As a junior in 2010, he rushed for nearly identical numbers – 1,260 yards and 12 touchdowns on 201 carries (6.2 avg.), while hauling in 28 receptions for 338 yards and two TDs.

Through two weeks of OTAs, Blount has been taking most of the carries while Martin has been nursing a sore hamstring and only receiving a few carries in a precautionary fashion. Not taking the initial starting snaps doesn’t necessarily mean much.

Last year in training camp Tyrone McKenzie was the starting middle linebacker for the first couple of practices until the Bucs inserted Mason Foster in with the first-team defense, supplanting McKenzie. A month later, Foster was the starting Mike linebacker and McKenzie didn’t even make the 53-man roster.

Anything can happen, but the Bucs haven’t given up on the idea that Blount can still be a 1,000-yard running back – despite Martin’s arrival.

NFL quarterbacks coaches and offensive coordinators spend an awful lot of time trying to eliminate bad habits when it comes to quarterbacks throwing the football. Textbook footwork and proper mechanics when it comes to releasing the ball are taught throughout the offseason at mini-camps and OTAs (organized team activities), which are days that are rooted in fundamentals.

But not in Tampa Bay. Quarterbacks coach Ron Turner and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan do have their quarterbacks practice doing things the right way, but are also spending time having Josh Freeman, Dan Orlovsky and Brett Ratliff doing things the wrong way, too.

The three Buccaneers quarterbacks spend one practice period scrambling around and throwing off balance – all while trying to maintain accuracy. The purpose is to simulate real game-like situations where the quarterback may have to make an awkward throw on third down to move the chains and the pass still has to be on target to accomplish that goal.

The idea is born from Sullivan, who had Giants quarterback Eli Manning improve his accuracy in 2011 by having him practice using proper and improper throwing technique. Backup quarterback David Carr said the drills produced the desired results.

“I won’t say his drills are unconventional, but not being a quarterbacks coach before, he has some different drills where it's uncomfortable movements,” Carr told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.

“You’re not just dropping back, moving to the left and right, stepping up and throwing the ball, which never happens in the game. You move up, you sprint out, run away from someone and then try to throw off-balance.”

The Bucs quarterbacks typically practice the unorthodox throwing during special teams periods, and on Tuesday, the primary targets were wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is working hard on developing a rapport with Freeman, and running back LeGarrette Blount, who is working on his receiving skills.

While the quarterbacks are using a different throwing method to practice throwing the ball in awkward situations, Blount is also using an unorthodox drill to help his concentration and pass-catching ability. The coaches have Blount stand in a stationary fashion, which helps Freeman and the other quarterbacks lock in on a target when they throw the ball. When the pass arrives, Blount has to concentrate and catch it with one hand.

Sullivan hopes that his different methods make a difference in Tampa Bay with Freeman as they did with Manning.

Every NFL head coach stresses the importance of ball security. Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano obsesses about it.

“No one who touches the football will get touches if they don’t protect the football,” Schiano said. “That is one of our core covenants – the ball. It’s so important they named the game after it. We make a big deal about it.”

Every recent Bucs head coach from Tony Dungy to Raheem Morris has used a practice period a couple days per week to practice holding on to the football. Running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends would typically run through the gauntlet drill, which consisted of coaches with padded blocking shields swatting at the pigskin as the ballcarrier runs between them.

Under Schiano, the gauntlet is still used on offense, but the twist is that the defensive players practice ball security, too. Under former head coaches in Tampa Bay, the Bucs offensive players would practice holding on to the ball and the defensive players would practice creating turnovers. With Schiano’s coaching staff, the Bucs defenders also practice good ball security once they have secured the takeaway.

Secondary coach Ron Cooper and assistant DBs coach Jeff Hafley make sure the defensive backs use the same “high and tight” ball-carrying method that the running backs use to insure that they don’t have the ball stripped before they get tackled.

Hafley was seen repeatedly telling the safeties during the interception drill during the individual period, “Put the ball under your chin! Put it under your chin!”

Picking off passes or recovering fumbles doesn’t mean a thing on defense if the offense can take the ball back before the whistle blows, and that is something that the Bucs coaching staff is spending a good deal of time stressing. The amount of attention to detail at One Buccaneer Place never seems to end under Schiano.

• Aside from the break-neck pace of the Bucs’ up-tempo practices, one of the interesting things about the way Greg Schiano’s coaching staff operates is the way that the different units hang together as they watch the offense and defense in the 11-on-11 scrimmage. All of the running backs stick together and all of the wide receivers are standing closely together. The same holds true with the tight ends and the offensive linemen. The respective position coaches stand close to their squads and provide continual instruction to the players on the sidelines and as the players come off the field.

In years past in the Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris eras, the Bucs players on offense and defense would typically drift amongst each other and converse. That may happen in time during the Schiano regime, but right now the Buccaneers are staying glued to their respective positions as everyone is learning the offensive and defensive systems.

• Another thing that is fundamentally different about Bucs practice is that there is very little swearing compared to the coaching staffs under Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris. Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy, who never cursed, did not like his coaches swearing and for the most part they complied.

But when the salty-tongued Gruden took over in 2002, Dungy holdovers like defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin, linebackers coach Joe Barry, and especially defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, incoporated swearing into their daily coaching vocabulary. The practice continued to a degree when Morris, who is also a known curser, took over.

In the parts of three practices that Pewter Report has been able to watch this spring, we have yet to hear any cursing on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place. Those Schiano comparisons to Dungy seem to be even more realistic by the minute.

• One final word about Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount and his status with the team. If Tampa Bay were planning on phasing him out or replacing him with newly acquired running back Doug Martin, Blount would not have been selected to model the new Nike Buccaneers uniforms. Instead, the Bucs would have chosen quarterback Josh Freeman, the face of the franchise, to be model the new Nike duds.

Sure, Blount is a product of the University of Oregon, which is the same school that Nike founder Phil Knight went to, so he could have been selected to be Nike’s model because of his ties to the Ducks program. But the NFL teams have the final say in which player was called upon to represent them when it came to modeling the new gear, and if Blount was expected to just be a role player or an afterthought in 2012 he wouldn’t have been selected for such an import publicity move.

To see Blount, whose production in the coming year will likely dictate his future role with the team, modeling the new Bucs uniforms you can click here and here.

Last modified on Friday, 08 June 2012 12:18

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  • avatar

    Great article and I agree with all points made in it. I don't know what's going to happen at the RB position but I know I feel about 400% better about it than I did going into last season. It's now a position of strength instead of what I thought was our weakest position last year during preseason. What's our weakest position now? I would say TE. I'll re-assess this again during the preseason.
  • avatar

    You know, if I squint my eyes tightly when watching Blount 'dance' behind the O line, he kind of looks like a guy named Sanders. Sanders too, had the dance habit and got tossed for losses often. But then we all know what happened once he got started. Barry was forgiven his losses because of his relatively diminutive size. Blount, at 240+ will never be forgiven those hesitations, but he is more Sanders than Alstott in his thinking. Not sure that can be coached but it sure is pretty when he's hurdling those safeties twenty yards downfield. And I originally shared Horse's opinion about not needing a back with that second first round selection ... that other needs could have been met. Since, I've began to think that two - or three good backs (Blount, Martin and Smith) are a payroll bargain for the Bucs that could payoff in additional free agent signings later in the spring as apparent weaknesses or injuries in/on the current roster present themselves. Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    LeGarrette Blount is going to be our third down back. He is practicing standing still and catching passes one handed. Coach says move to the soft spot and sit down. When you make the catch you are in the second level of the defense. Can you overpower Safety's or Corners? Feel really bad for our opposing defenses. LeGarrette is going to have a 800/550 year with 11 touchdowns. Get ready BUC ball is back. Williams < Freeman Wilder?Blount to early to tell Giles>Stocker or Clark House
  • avatar

    Blount along with Martin are going to make this Bucs team very scary when it comes to stopping their rushing attack. Bring in Smith like the Saints used Sproles, and this team will be scoring a lot of TD's. One of the reasons Blount fumbled the ball as much as he did was his not going down from the first hit and trying to get the extra yards which leaves him open to more tacklers stripping him of the ball. Sound familiar.......Alstott? The thing that will make this offense so much better is the coaching we now have and the biggest factor will be Freeman's ability to read defenses better and be more accurate throwing the ball. He definitely needs to be able to hit his open receivers in stride to really improve their YAC stats!
  • avatar

    Blount and Winslow probably have about the same value with Blount obviously being healthier and younger. It amazes me that Bucs were willing to take a 7th for Winslow, but once Winslow let the cat out of the bag that he was going to be traded or cut his worth plummeted. Bucs probably could have gotten more if he had kept his mouth shut. I just hope Clark proves to be as productive
  • avatar

    I like Blount as much as anybody but watching him sometimes I feel as though he wasn't always giving 100% It is no secret he doesn't hit holes as hard as he could and should. Its no secret he doesn't pass protect well and hasn't shown he can catch well either. He also is known for not comprehending the playbook. I still give him a pass because of what he has done on the field under the coaching of a sub par regime. alos, not ever having a pre-season & OTAs. One thing he did say this year is he is going to hit the holes hard every play. I think that has been the biggest hole in his game. If he hit a hole as hard as Ray Rice there may be almost no stopping this guy. If you watch that Green Bay Game he hit the holes and we all know how that game looked for him. He could still be a very special back. Add Martin to the mix and things look even brighter for Blount. It should take a load off of him to know he doesn't have to do it all and can just go out and play hard.
  • avatar

    I will take Blount over Dunn any day. Blount will be a star in this league with some coaching, we need to sign him long term now.
  • avatar

    Don't forget our Offensive Coordinator came from the NY Giants. Their running game has been built on a bruising back and a less powerful back with more speed and quickness. Blount is going to be the powerful back and we had to have Martin to provide more speed and quickness. And Dungy was a Defensive Coach who emphasized a two back running attack and built a great defense to win the games. He didn't swear either and taught his teams very welll. He also got some good free agents that the Glaziers paid for. Schiano is following right in Dungy's footsteps, and I feel willl be even more successful. Don't worry, Schiano will build a strong defense, and I believe we will have a lot more potent passing attack then we did in the Dungy years. Give Shiano time to build around the young nucleus we already have and we wiill have a great team to watch for years to come! Terrific insights Scott! Like Dungy, Schiano also emphasizes fundamentals and good character. Schiano is exactly what the Bucs needed.
  • avatar

    Blount and Martin could be thew next, best two-headed running back tandem in the league. Guys arguing over whether Blount is a keeper or who is starting are just being stupid - this is good, healthy competition. Throw in the Mike Smith from Utah and Mosis Madu - who played well last year when he got in, and the RB corps could be the biggest turnaround position on the team. With this coaching staff and O-line, we just became a much more physically oriented team on offense. I like it.
  • avatar

    Blount mostly just needs to learn to secure the ball and passblock; i can't believe he can't figure those things out. I still think he should figure out a spinmove to get a little more agile; yes, D players know to just get him going sideways; i keep thinking a simple spinmove can get him to sidestep defenders and get to the new hole opened up somewhere else as teams sellout to stop Blount.
  • avatar

    The first time I watched Blount run the ball I just knew he was special. I distinctly remember wishing the bucs would draft him, when the titans got him I thought oh well they will never let him go. When Dominick somehow got him I was ecstatic (one of Dom's best moves that made me believe in him even though I've admittedly questioned him). The feeling I get when Blount runs the ball is something I've only felt watching the great backs (Campbell in particular) that he is truly going to punish the d. I think it's despicable that are local media latches onto incorrect negatives about what could truly be our star player. They are bent on putting him down instead of appreciating his awe inspiring talent. Why! Why latch onto words of previous coaches trying to save their reps? Their motives are so transparent come on! Olsen refused to run the ball the instant we were behind guys, Blount never had a chance! Can we get over the Boise punch already this man is a Buc now and he is a family man what more does the community want. LGB never forget you have fans here that look forward to seeing you play every Sunday that know we are watching a running style that has never been replicated and may never be. Horse I agree we shouldve gone all defense in the draft although we did need rb depth. I'm not unhappy about the muscle hamster, but to suggest he will be the starter goes against Schianos whole principle of earning jobs not just being given the based on draft status. I hope bucs fans can come together to show our support of Blount in some way (ideas anyone) so that we can directly slap the media in the face that we as fans no who should be our starter
  • avatar

    Blount is a good running back and I bet if we tried to trade him we would get a second rounder for him. I know that he will not give up the ball 6 times this year because we have good coaching that is helping him to correct that issue. I believe that we made a mistake by drafting Martin because we had so much more needs on Defense versus Offense. We must correct our Defense issues before we can be competitive on Offense. We did not do enough in the draft to help expedite that big elephant in the room. Rounds 1,2,3,4 should have all been about the Defense. Just my opinion folks.
  • avatar

    I'm amazed how fans forget how ineffective Blount was...the constant getting tackle in the backfield.I mean really guys..how many good runs did he really have?Hurdle a couple of players and he is top tier back right? 3rd&7 and Blount won't be on the field...thats the Bucs #1 back right? The problem with Bucs fans is that we reach for superstars because we never had one..Doug Martin is our star,by midseason fans will be in love with him.
  • avatar

    great article, great information. cant get this anywhere else. Thanks Scott and PR.
  • avatar

    NFL Sunday ticket will be a definite requirement this fall, as the Bucs once again become,"Must see TV"!!!!
  • avatar

    Great article Scott! I agree with Blount that the starters job is his to lose and that it does make sense to have him be the 'starter' early in the game. I think Blount will be a willing blocker and now, for the first time having a real off season to prepare, I think he'll become a better pass protector as well. I also have a feeling that the preseason will be different with Schiano than it's been in the past as well as I think we'll see the 1st unit a bit more than in prior years. I'm really liking coach Schiano, I really hope things work out for him.
  • avatar

    "The amount of attention to detail at One Buccaneer Place never seems to end under Schiano."............................fantastic and it never should end. i can honestly say im sleeping more easier at night knowing that shiano is our head coach. i thought that morris was going to be the guy going forward, but it was obvious that the players started to lose faith in him. im still mad at pr and prolly will never forgive them for not reporting morris partying with his players even after losing games. morris just said screw you to the fans of tampa bay and although i hope morris is successful in life, i have lost respect for him as a coach. that being said, shiano is exactly what this team needs. he can be a hard *censored* all he wants. we know the kind of person he is and that he cares about people and for the players, that should be good enough. i also like that he doesnt curse. theres that hof coach (not gibbs i think) that coached for the redskins and he didnt curse either. shiano is a great mix of everything but above all hes a supreme person and leader. thats what this team has been missing above all and it may take a yr or 2, maybe 3 but i believe tampa will be talking dynasty for the next decade.
  • avatar

    Scubog, I am SO with you on Blount. I personally can't wait to see what a proper off season can do for him and the team in general. The Lemming -key pad warriors who spew all their force fed information in a sad attempt to be more correct then the last poster makes me want to puke. When I watched Blount run like a Freight Train just waiting for an opportunity to finish his run with bad intentions towards any tacklers , it was a real throw back to Riggins, Allstot,Harris,Podolack and all the other bruisers from the past. My hope and wish is that the Bucs make opposing D's not want to make the trip out of the tunnel on Sundays because they know they are going to get beat up on instead of them doing the beating. Therefore making them tire faster and be less efficient much sooner in the game. Whether it be from Blount trauma or the Manster with some Flash thrown in for good measure. I of course agree we will have to wait and see but to me the Bucs have a plan and for a change are all on the same page to reach that goal. The coaching search DID have it's screw up's in my mind but the Bucs fell in a pile of crap and came out smelling like a rose for once and I couldn't be happier. GO BUCS !!!!!
  • avatar

    Good journalism Scott, This piece required research and investigative reporting to uncover the info reported. Keep up the good work! One of the reasons I'm a PR faithful. On the subject, I've never bought into the hype about Blount. I prefer to trust my eyes. Like most good players, he has deficiences, but will improve with coaching, practice, and experience. By the way, a starter is the guy that takes the first snap at that position. Other than that, it's meaningless. There's enough to be done for everybody to get a shot at doing it!
  • avatar

    I never understood how the national and local media was able to convince the public that Blount was too stupid to hold onto the ball, catch a ball, pass protect, know the plays or even find his way to practice. No word on whether he scored higher than a 4 on his Wonderlick. The image they continually portray about Blount is that he is a thug who punched another player who was in his face chiding him after a loss. Most of us might have popped the guy too. Heck Talib might have "busted a cap." Hardy Nickerson might have spit on him. I remember a certain #40 who had a lot of trouble holding onto the ball in his early years because the defenders would hold him up while others tried to strip the ball. Mike learned to protect the ball and so will Blount. After-all, this is his first true off-season. I for one hope Blount gets a little riled over the pen and mic gang and like the Incredible Hulk says, "you won't like me when I'm angry."
  • avatar

    Nice read Scott. I especially like the parts about the unorthodox QB drills, Blount and the angle on swearing. Keep bringing the juicy tidbits. Mmmm.
  • avatar

    I wish our uniforms didn't look so much like the Falcons'.
  • avatar

    O line and running backs could be a strength this year. If Freeman can lean on a strong rushing attack, the play action could tear up opposing defenses with Jackson, Williams, Benn and Clark.
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