LeGarrette Blount's Move to Philly May Be Most Underrated Move of NFL Offseason

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMay 25, 2017

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) shakes an attempted tackle by Houston Texans defensive back Corey Moore (43) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

LeGarrette Blount doesn't really know the Eagles offense yet. 

"I know just about as much as anybody would probably know on the first day," he said Tuesday after his first full-squad OTA session with the team he joined late last week.

Blount is also far from knowing exactly how he will be used in the Eagles offense. "One day," he reiterated with a smile. "That's all I got."

It's a little early even for Eagles coach Doug Pederson to start defining roles. "It's hard to put a number on the actual carries because we don't play a game for quite some time," Pederson said before Tuesday's practice.

"In LeGarrette's sense right now, [we are] just getting him caught up and up to speed with what we're doing offensively."

OK, enough about what Blount and his new head coach don't know. Here's what was obvious as Eagles offensive and defensive players squared off against each other on the field for the first time Tuesday:

  • Blount is the biggest running back on the Eagles roster, by at least half a head. When he stands next to Darren Sproles and rookie Donnel Pumphrey, he looks like a dad taking the Pop Warner kids out for ice cream after practice. He's also in outstanding shape, looking like he spent the whole offseason in a team workout program, not waiting for the phone to ring.
  • Blount is already taking reps with the first-team offense. Despite one day's worth of knowledge, he's the running back lined up behind quarterback Carson Wentz when the Eagles go 11-on-11. He may not know much, but he knows a lot.
  • Blount is dialed in and happy to be back to playing football. He was sharp during drills, but also goofed around with Sproles and other players between reps.

"I was having fun," Blount said. "We're out here to work. We take it seriously. There's nothing wrong with having a little bit of fun, joking around and laughing with guys. You gotta be around the guys that you are going to be working with. You gotta get comfortable with them and learn their personalities."

LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles joke around before Eagles practice Tuesday.
LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles joke around before Eagles practice Tuesday.Mike Tanier

Personality, and perceptions, may be the key to Blount's success.

Blount is a 250-pound bruiser of a running back who gained 1,161 yards last season with the Patriots and led the league with 18 touchdowns. He joins a backfield that consists of diminutive third-down specialists like Sproles and Pumphrey, plus minor prospects like Wendell Smallwood. (Injured, fumble-prone Ryan Mathews is still on the roster, but that appears to be paperwork at this point.) While Pederson may have been tamping expectations Tuesday, there's no real question about what he hopes to get from Blount.

"Hopefully, he does everything he did in New England the last couple seasons," Pederson said this week. The Eagles wanted a power back, and they got a Super Bowl-caliber one.

But there is a reason why Blount was still sitting in the bargain bin while other veteran running backs—Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, even Marshawn Lynch—were gobbled up by other teams.

Running backs over 30 aren't exactly prized free agents these days. Big backs with limited receiving skills—Blount has caught 46 passes in seven years—don't fit modern offensive philosophies very well. The Patriots have a way of making ordinary players produce extraordinary statistics, so some teams may have shied away from a player who might not be the same without the Foxborough magic.

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:   LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots take the handoff from Tom Brady #12 against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeat the Atlanta Falco
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

And then there is Blount's past: punching a Boise State defender in college, a marijuana incident and some not-with-the-program behavior during a short stint with the Steelers.

The extended stay on the free-agent wire didn't bother Blount. "I wasn't worried about it," he said. "I knew everything was going to work itself out. I knew everything was going to unfold. I just had to be patient."

Blount said that he drew interest from other teams; that the Patriots wanted him back, and the Giants were also reported suitors. In the end, he chose the Eagles as much as the Eagles chose him. "I like the way they do things around here," he said upon signing last week. "I like the way they play ball. I felt like this was the perfect fit for me."

Still, the past and perceptions bring skepticism. The Blount signing has all the hallmarks of a deal that falls somewhere between forgettable and regrettable: an aging workhorse and former resident malcontent, sated by a pair of Super Bowl rings within the tight structure of the Patriots system, looking for another paycheck or two before he calls it quits.

That's not the LeGarrette Blount the Eagles are seeing right now. Blount talked about taking on a mentorship role in the Eagles' young backfield during his introductory press conference. And he's not just yukking it up with his new teammates and coaches between drills, but cramming to learn the offense as quickly as possible.

"It's all difficult when you're learning a new offense," Blount said, adding that he is picking the brains of Sproles, Wentz and running backs coach Duce Staley. "You can't learn it all in one day. There's a lot of things you have to keep up with, that you have to have explained to you."

The real issue may be that we have never seen or heard much from the real Blount before. Not much personality escapes the Patriots compound. Even during the thrum of Super Bowl weeks, Blount blended in with the Patriots crowd, perhaps strategically.

At his best, he was a button on Tom Brady's utility belt, the portable battering ram to be stowed carefully when not in use. At his worst, he was the guy who once stormed off the field when the Steelers didn't give him enough carries.

But this Blount says he is just eager to earn a new role, even if he's not certain what it will be.

It's easy to make a good impression during introductory press conferences and a few hours of light-contact practices. Bold predictions about players who look great in shorts on crisp May afternoons often sound ridiculous by mid-September. But I am going to go out on a few limbs, anyway.

  • Blount will have a better, more productive season than Peterson, Lynch or Charles. He's in a better situation than any of them. And until Peterson and Charles prove they can overcome major injures in their early 30s and Lynch proves he's in real football shape, Blount is the better back than all of them.
  • Blount won't score 18 touchdowns, because the Eagles offense won't put him on the 5-yard line as often as the Patriots offense could. But he'll be back in double digits, and he'll make as big an impact for the rebuilt Eagles offense as receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, who leapt off the market in the opening days of free agency.
  • Lots of teams will regret pigeonholing one of the league's toughest interior runners as just another aging, one-dimensional, possibly quarrelsome "system product." Maybe not the Patriots, because they will be off doing Patriots stuff. But other teams will wonder why they passed on the reigning touchdown champion with the low ($2.8 million for one year) asking price. The Giants, with their backfield full of youngsters and injury reclamations, may be one of those teams.

In other words, it's pretty clear what Blount's role in the Eagles offense is supposed to be, and though it has only been a few days, he already has gone a long way toward earning it.

   

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.