Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Five Reasons LeGarrette Blount Will Bounce Back This Year
Looking at Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount's stats each of his first two seasons in the NFL, there isn't all that much disparity.
Outside of total yardage, the numbers are reasonably close. He dropped .8 YPC on 17 fewer attempts, even though he was active for one more game than 2010. His touchdowns fell from six to five, and his fumbles remained the same.
One major reason fans saw his 2011 as a down year was that he failed to breach the requisite 1,000-yard plateau, by which all backs are judged. Another reason is the general failings of all things marked with the skull-and-swords flag.
The Buccaneers managed only four wins last season after a promising 10-6 campaign a year before.
Many thought Tampa Bay would build on their success. Instead, the Buccaneers fell flat on their faces in 2012. They lost their final 10 games with Blount topping 100 yards just twice.
While the 2012 NFL season is still in the distance, free agency has been underway and the draft is on the horizon. So, what reasons do fans have to believe that their burgeoning young star will have a bounce-back season?
Tampa Bay's Free-Agent Spending Spree
In 2011, Tampa Bay pass-catchers mustered just one 100-yard receiving game (Kellen Winslow, Week 11). That same year, Vincent Jackson had four such games himself, while averaging over 18 yards per catch and finding the end zone nine times.
Whats more, this was widely considered an off year for the star wideout.
Ignoring his monetary costs for a second, realize that this is an enormous upgrade for the Bucs' receiving core, whose top man last year, Mike Williams, registered 771 yards and three scores.
Jackson's offensive prowess will take some of the heat off of Blount, who was one of the only weapons in the Tampa Bay arsenal last season.
Tampa Bay continued its spending spree this offseason by signing guard Carl Nicks from the New Orleans Saints. Nicks' lucrative contract notwithstanding, he will be another important cog in the Bucs' offensive turnaround. He is regarded as one of the best interior linemen in the NFL, and that is just were LeGarrette Blount is the most dangerous.
With Nicks' added blocking, Blount should see a few more holes opening up in 2012.
Josh Freeman Isn't That Bad
There is no beating around the bush here: Josh Freeman had an atrocious 2011. Most knew that the young quarterback wouldn't sustain his 2010 numbers (25 TD, 6 INT); however, this much of a drop off was not expected.
Freeman tossed 22 interceptions to only 16 touchdowns during the Bucs 4-12 season.
He is only 24 years old and there isn't anyone breathing down his back to take his job right now. The 6'6" QB will only be in his third full season as a starter and can work through these down times and continue improving.
Not to mention, his GM just went out and signed a nice new toy in Vincent Jackson.
Blount and Freeman's games are intertwined. They have each had one great season and one poor season. With Freeman trending back to his 2010 numbers, Blount's job will become easier.
Freeman has shown some skills with his legs as well in the past, scoring four touchdowns last season. If he and Blount can become a poor man's Vick-McCoy or Tebow-McGahee, then things will be looking up for both of them.
These are young players still searching for their place in the NFL and together they can help each other have comeback years in 2012.
The Fifth Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft
A minuscule benefit to Blount and the Bucs' sorry 2011: They are rewarded with the fifth pick in April's draft. The first three selections are all but locks, which leaves Tampa Bay sitting behind Cleveland. Experts have them taking one of two players here: either Alabama's Trent Richardson and LSU's Morris Claiborne.
A selection of the cornerback Claiborne doesn't mean much for Blount other than perhaps a vote of confidence from the Buccaneer brass.
However, should they select the Crimson Tide running back, that means a whole new situation for Blount. No longer will the likes of Kregg Lumpkin be his only competition for the starting role. Blount will have to contend with a Heisman finalist who rushed for 21 scores in 13 games while playing in the SEC last season.
This competition would be something Blount hasn't faced since his junior year at Oregon. However as a former JUCO player and undrafted rookie, Blount has overcome a lot of obstacles on his way to becoming a starting NFL running back.
I have to believe that Richardson would bring out the best in him, regardless of what he has said about the possible pick.
A Rookie Head Coach to Lead a Young Team
Greg Schiano is accustomed to turning bad situations into good situations. He took a rock-bottom Rutgers team and turned it into a winning program. He is also the man responsible for molding a certain star running back for the Baltimore Ravens.
If there is one thing Schiano won't put up with, it is fumbles. Ball security is something Blount has struggled with in his NFL career, losing three each season. Trent Richardson rarely puts the ball on the ground, and should the Bucs choose him with the fifth pick, there is going to be a lot going against the Oregon product.
However, the list of running backs who have had immediate success in the league right out of college is very limited (e.g. Richardson's former teammate Mark Ingram). Schiano is going to have his eyes on Blount's fumble numbers this season.
It could be time for Blount to fully realize his potential, or he may be out of a job.
Health Concerns and the Sophomore Slump
In 2011, Blount found himself in a situation that a lot of second-year players have. The dreaded "sophomore slump" is a label tossed about frequently when talking about players who excelled as rookies but trended down in their second season.
Like a lot of players, though, it is likely Blount can bounce back. He has shown remarkable athleticism by racking up 14 rushes of 20-plus yards and impressive totals in yards after contact.
Blount's biggest issues are fumbling and staying on the field. He has missed multiple games in each of his two professional seasons and also lost three fumbles each year—neither of which are good raps to have.
The good news is, these are two things that can come with experience in the NFL. In his third season receiving regular touches, I don't see any reason he can't break the 1,000-yard plateau again.
Tampa Bay will be playing a much easier schedule this season, especially with the Saints situation up in the air. They have improved in important areas and have high picks in a very good draft.
The Buccaneers will win more than four games. LeGarrette Blount will be a big part of that.