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What the New England Patriots See in Running Back LeGarrette Blount

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What the New England Patriots See in Running Back LeGarrette Blount
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The date was April 27. But in the football community, it was better known as Day 3 of the 2013 NFL draft.

While all 32 franchises had the best remaining talent circled on their draft boards, the New England Patriots had an additional priority circled on the to-do list: unload Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps.

After spending one season on New England's injured reserve with a "leg injury," the former Florida Gators running back and returner had decided that track was his No. 1 priority. That decision did not jive with the three-year, $1.451 million deal he signed with the Patriots last August, per Spotrac.com. And it most certainly did not jive with the mindset of head coach Bill Belichick.

As a result, Belichick swung a deal with his confidant, former Rutgers University and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, Greg Schiano. The Patriots agreed to send the 5'7", 175-pound speedster to the Bucs along with a seventh-round pick.

In return, New England inherited the anti-Demps: a 6'0", 247-pound burly wrecking ball named LeGarrette Blount.

The 229th overall pick and the 23-year-old Demps for a 26-year-old back with question marks? What did the Patriots see in Blount—a player who was reportedly going to be released—to make the deal worth the expense?

Well, as former Cleveland Browns assistant and current Alabama head coach Nick Saban once said, "everything that Bill Belichick does has some purpose."

 

A Character

Blount carries some baggage along with him. Yet that is not news to the Patriots'  brain trust.

A former Oregon Duck, Blount was suspended indefinitely in February of 2009 for missing team meetings. After punching a Boise State player following a loss in September, Blount was suspended again for the remainder of his senior season. Yet despite the initial ruling, Blount was allowed to participate in practice and missed only eight games before being reinstated by the program.

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Blount had an eventful career at Oregon.

With those demerits already on his record, it wasn't a shock to see a player of his talent level go undrafted. After getting interest from the San Francisco 49ers, Blount signed on with the Tennessee Titans in the spring of 2010.

As a rookie, Blount got into a scuffle during training camp and threw a punch. He was quick to express remorse to then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. And according to theGrio.com, Fisher said "he didn't have to apologize."

Blount made Tennessee's 53-man roster at the end of that summer. The celebration was short-lived, though, as Blount was waived and claimed by Tampa Bay a day later.

Once he arrived back in his native Florida, it was brought to the Buccaneers' attention that Blount had problems getting to work on time. His tardiness was enough of an issue where, as Brian McIntyre of NFL.com explained, Blount was fined upwards of $15,000 within his first couple weeks on the team.

Consequently, the team hired a car service to wake him up in the morning and drive him to the practice facility located just a few miles away from his home.

Does Blount have the potential to be a headache? Sure. Although if that's the case, don't think that Belichick and Co. will dance around his idiosyncrasies. This is the same coach that sent ex-Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas and three others home after they were late to work the morning after a snowstorm.

Blount will have to buy into the cliche "Patriot Way." And thus far, all reports indicate that he's doing so. 

 

A Downhill Runner

In May, Blount told Patriots Today that he's a "tough-nosed kind of old-school player."

That self-described sentiment pretty well sums him up.

Blount has shades of vintage ground-and-pound runners in his game. And due to this, he will draw his share of comparisons to former Patriots like Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon—both of whom stood in over 6'0" and 230 pounds.

That being said, Blount is bigger. Squared up behind the line, he looks more like a linebacker than he does a ball-carrier.

Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald agrees.

Yes, Blount lacks the sub-4.5, 40-yard dash speed of modern day rushers, but that's not his niche. 

Blount's game is about finding the gap and pinning his ears back.

He did just that in Week 6 against the Kansas City Chiefs last season. With a convincing lead, Blount was given the reins late in the fourth quarter. It was one of his few opportunities to see extensive action.

He only needed a few to reach pay dirt.

Blount makes one cut to find space. (Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Blount took a Josh Freeman hand-off and cut back off the right guard, which allowed his blocks to get established.

Two Chiefs defensive backs close in. (Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Once the hole opened up, Blount lowered his center of gravity to gain speed through the lane.

Blount's momentum slingshots him into the end zone. (Image via NFL Game Rewind)

There is no room for shake and bake in his technique, but Blount runs straight through the pathway, bowling right over free safety Kendrick Lewis for a TD. He's a "three yards and a cloud of dust" kind of player. But on this 3rd-and-6, he garnered a little more.

When comparing his style to the current Patriots' rushing attack, Blount looks more like more a bulked up Stevan Ridley or Brandon Bolden than a Shane Vereen or Leon Washington. Blount is the epitome of thunder, not lightning. He works in between the bookends; he hurdles and he runs through tacklers.

As we have seen with Ridley, violent running can be effective but also a liability. Blount has a history of ball security woes, too, fumbling the ball nine times during his first two NFL seasons.

 

A Non-Receiver

Blount is a one-dimensional player. He's got quick feet and leaping ability, he just doesn't get outside in a hurry. Those traits limit him as a receiver, particularly when it comes to the two-minute drill and as a third-down back.

He has 21 career receptions on 34 targets. Only one of those was nabbed in 2012.

It came in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

Blount catches the pass and has six yards to go before the line of scrimmage. (Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Blount stepped in to pass protect before slipping out to the flats, where Freeman was forced to target him when the pocket broke down. It was clear that on this 1st-and-10, Blount was the last-gasp safety valve. Make note of how few Panthers are in view.

Blount works back to the line with some hesitation moves and a leapfrog. (Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Even with an off-target throw from Freeman, Blount did a nice job reeling the ball in. Yet his acceleration after the grab left something to be desired. He took a while to get out of first gear before going airborne.

The play might have been limited from the start, but Blount's moves take time to develop. (Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Blount was unable to muster enough speed to surpass the swarming tacklers. His reception began with wide open space. But by the time he was back to the line of scrimmage, four Panthers had a shot to stop him. The play yielded a two-yard gain.

While his hands may be on par, Blount's deceptive speed is better used between the hashes. Odds are, the Patriots knew that when his college tape vetted four years ago.

 

A Low Risk

The NFL is predicated on the "what have you done for me lately" philosophy. So with that in mind, it's understandable why Blount has become a forgotten man.

Nevertheless, it's important to make note of what Blount can be, or has been.

Blount's NFL career began with great surprise and promise. (Video via WeeklyNewsOnline)

In 2010, Blount led all rookies with 1,007 rushing yards on 201 carries, which was good for five yards per attempt and six touchdowns. A year later, Blount saw just 184 carries, which netted him a reduced 781 yards and five touchdowns.

Then 2012 rolled around and the Bucs had spent a first-round draft choice on Boise State's Doug Martin. With a new vehicle in the showroom, Blount was reduced to a backup role. He took a mere 41 hand-offs all season as he accumulated 151 yards and two scores. On the other hand was Martin, who broke out for 1,454 yards and 12 total touchdowns.

Blount was no longer in the Tampa's plans. His workload, his numbers and his efficiency had all regressed. He wasn't a good fit to spell Martin because performance in short-yardage situations was minimal, and had been since dating back to his first NFL campaign. On top of his goal line issues, Blount's success rate per carry ranked 81st among rushers in 2012, cites Advanced NFL Stats.

In Coach Schiano's offense, Blount was a large body without large responsibilities. And for all intents and purposes, his arrow was pointing downward.

Now it is unlikely that Blount will ever re-scratch the productivity of his rookie season. It is also unlikely that Blount will ever post the numbers he did in 2011 again. But there's no harm in checking how much tread the four-year pro still has on his tires, considering the fact he took a $1 million pay cut to come to Foxborough.

Blount may never play a down for the Patriots. One of five halfbacks on New England's 90-man roster, there's no guarantee that No. 29 even makes the final cut.

But in the organization's eyes, he had a better chance of doing so than the man he was traded for.

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