Beaten up, bruised and generally battered during the first seven games of the season, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay’s medical staff has been working overtime during the past two weeks and it appears to be paying off as several key members of both the offense and defense are set to return to game action this Sunday in New Orleans.
One of those key players that has been sorely missed is running back LeGarrette Blount. The second-year back took has missed two games since taking a shot to the knee in the Buccaneers' 48-3 loss at San Francisco and injuring his MCL.
Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris commented on Blount and what he means to Tampa Bay’s offense.
"LeGarrette brings a lot to the table,” Morris said. “He’s one of those guys that comes in there and really lets us be what we want to be on offense. He gives us the ability to give a guy the ball 20-25 times a game. He opens up our play-action pass. He opens up some of the things we do, gets some more people open downfield like we did last time against the Saints with the Rejus Benn big touchdown to him. That’s where our offense is, that’s where we need to be. We want to develop that kind of a rhythm, again, and to maintain that consistency throughout the second half of our season.”
Morris went on to comment about how the running game can help all of the Buccaneers’ units.
“If we can do those things and get LeGarrette Blount going, and also Lumpkin and all those guys in the backfield, it opens up other things for our receivers,” Morris said. “It opens up things for Mike Williams. It opens up things for Arrelious Benn. It opens up things for Kellen Winslow. And they start to tag-team off each other and we can stop talking about how bad Freeman is playing or how not as good he’s playing as he was last year. He starts to play better, as well, and our offense starts to click and it becomes a total team deal.
While no official announcement from Morris or the Buccaneers has come out saying Blount will definitely play Sunday, it appears to be a solid bet No. 27 will take the field in New Orleans.
Blount is eager to get back in action.
“My recovery has been a little bit faster than we thought,” Blount said. “Everything is going real well. It's looking good for this week. I've been running for the last couple weeks, so the fatigue isn’t going to play a factor in how I perform.”
With Earnest Graham lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, Blount will take on added responsibility.
“I know I'm going to play third down in this game," Blount said. “I know I’m not going to play all of them – but I’m going to play quite a few of them. I have shown that I know the protections and the routes and things and that I can catch the ball. That's going to help us out tremendously. They're going to let me stay in the game a little bit longer and play a lot more snaps so I'm excited.”
Morris knows Blount will need to add third-down back to his resume, at least in spot duty, but said this week Tampa Bay has at least one more option than in the loss to Chicago.
He (Blount) was starting to develop his third-down package before Earnest got injured but certainly it helps us increase some of those roles for him,” Morris said. “It also gives us some opportunities for other people like Mossis Madu. We have the ability to get him in there as well. We have (Kregg) Lumpkin, too, so we feel pretty good about our running back situation. I know it was dire need during the bye week, about how we didn’t have anyone healthy on the roster. It was great. It was awesome. I had every running back in the nation call me trying to get a job.”
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was also injured in the San Francisco game is hoping to see action when Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans on Sunday.
"I'm feeling good. I’m going to go out and practice today,” McCoy said. “With my ankle injury I’ll just be day-to-day. I’m going to go out, be aggressive and we’ll see what happens. I’m a tough guy, I can deal with it. If I get nicked up here and there it doesn’t matter. I’ll get out there at some point.”
Morris also is looking forward to seeing McCoy lined up in the three-technique soon once again.
“He's different. He's out get-off guy,” Morris said. “He's kind of our engine a little bit. Price and him in there are tough to deal with. They create some certain disruption for us that we don’t have with other players. They're different guys. They play hard, they play fast, they play physical.
“Some of the other guys, like Big Frank (Okam), we get a different look. We get a bigger more physical human. With McCoy we get a chance to change the line of scrimmage and change where the ball is handed off and some of the position points from the quarterback. We get a little bit more pass rush. It will be nice to have him back.”
Morris also commented on Tanard Jackson (hamstring), offensive linemen Jeremy Zuttah (knee) and Jeff Faine (biceps).
“I’m feeling good about both of those guys (Jackson and Zuttah),” Morris said. “Got a little extra time this week. Got to see Tanard run around out there a bunch today. Feeling a lot better about where Zuttah is. I don’t know where he is going to be at yet. I’m going to have to see. But we have a little bit of time. Jeff Faine got out there a little bit today. He was able to do some things for us today. So I'm feeling good about getting at least one of those guys back if not both (Zuttah or Faine).”
Another key player who has been hampered by injuries is rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster. The rookie has been slowed by not just one, but both ankles being injured. Foster, like McCoy and Blount, sounds ready to go Sunday.
“I had some time off to relax, get healthy,” Foster said. “So I am ready to go."
“Pretty much the whole week (I was preparing for the Saints) I didn’t have the opportunity to go home so I stayed here (in Tampa) and hung out, watched film, got treatment and just relaxed. I feel good; definitely this bye helped me out a lot. We have great trainers so I was able to come in everyday and get worked on it. It's a lot better.”