LeGarrette Blount has been very open about not wanting to come off the field, that especially means on 3rd down. Last season, largely due to shortcomings in Blount’s game and a lack of prep-time in camp, Blount was rarely ever on the field in 3rd down situations. This offseason though, Blount has focused on improving his game so he can be an every-down back.
“I’ve been getting a lot of third-down reps,” Blount said. “In the offseason I was working on catching the ball and things like that, so I’ve been getting a lot more involved.”
As wonderful as that sounds, I’m going to go against the grain and say I don’t think the Bucs would be well-served to try and get LeGarrette Blount to be an every down guy. Blount is a big, strong beast of a running back. But he’s best when he’s running downhill late in a game, and the best way to ensure he’s at his best at that stage, is to keep him fresh. Putting him on the field in third and long situations, asking him to pass-protect or run routes just puts more strain on his body and fatigues him quicker.
Nobody ever looked at Blount in college and said, “that’s a guy I want to throw passes to.” That’s not his game, and while I applaud him for working on that aspect of it, the Bucs would be better served to give their big power back a break on the sidelines and let a faster, more dynamic open-field player come into take the third-and-long snaps. The problem is, the Bucs don’t really have that kind of player on their roster right now.
But even so, a back like Earnest Graham could even be serviceable (and likely more proficient) in that role. Graham is a better receiver, has slightly more shake in the open field and he’s a far better blocker. You don’t have to be a track sprinter to be a third down back, you just need to be solid all around. Kevin Faulk has been the third-down back in New England for years, he’s not flashy but he’s incredibly consistent.
The NFL is basically a two-back league now. The days of the every-down back have been largely replaced by specialized players that have specific roles. LeGarrette Blount is a very good power-runner. But you may start to run into trouble when you ask a guy to do something that he’s not as well-suited to do. In Blount’s case keeping him on the field means you now have an unproven blocker, a receiver who has 7 receptions in his entire collegiate and pro career and he’s going to wear down more quickly.
Put it this way, LeGarrette Blount is more valuable to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter of games than he is on third down. So it’d make the most sense to keep him fresh and ready to pound a worn down defense late in a game. I don’t think making him an every-down back is the right call.