One of the spots the Bucs thought they were pretty solid in heading into 2011 (much like quarterbacks) was the running back position. Tampa entered the year with LeGarrette Blount, Earnest Graham, Allen Bradford and Kregg Lumpkin all on roster.
Blount was coming off of a breakout rookie year that saw him rush for over 1,000 yards and Graham was establishing him as a viable third down back.
But now that we are at the halfway point in 2011 we now see how easily mislead we were and just how drunk on the success of 2010 we really were. Blount is officially injury prone, Graham is officially out for the season and Bradford is officially off he team. Now the buzz has worn off, the hangover is still hanging around and the real situation at the Bucs running back spot has revealed itself.
The DEPTH Chart
The biggest issue and story surrounding the Buccaneers running backs is the severe depth problem that surfaced in London. LeGarrette Blount was injured and inactive and Earnest Graham left the game with a season ending injury. This left only one healthy back available: Kregg Lumpkin.
This is a freak situation that could happen to anybody but it showed how fragile this backfield is. It also shows how thin and average it really is. We all thought Blount was this massive truck that would barrel and leap his way to the endzone; a sort of indestructible force.
It’s why I call him Blount Force Trauma.
But without him the Bucs running game wasn’t that bad. Earnest Graham went over 100 yards on the New Orleans Saints but he suffered a season ending injury the next week.
It;s hard to blame these backs for their injuries but it shows that they are just as fragile as they are valuable. Without Graham or Blount, the Bucs running game died a violent death and the rest of the offense went with it. These backs are an intricate part of this offense and when subtracted, Josh Freeman is one dimensional. Tampa saw what happened when these backs are out and must do something to assure it never happens again.
With the elephant in the room story addressed, the reason these backs being out hurt the Bucs was because they were (as I said) very valuable to this offense.
LeGarrette Blount isn’t quite on pace from last season but he can still get over 1,000 yards playing a full year. He has 400 as of current and that’s just on 90 carries. CHris Johnson has over 120 carries and is over 30 yards behind Blount. He’s not setting the NFL running world on fire but he’s not supposed to. He’s supposed to come in and open up the passing game, gashing the defense in the process.
For that Blount passes with almost flying colors.
He loses points for reliability. He’s missed a game and a half already and it was because of a knee injury. Running backs have short self lives to begin with let alone one with a knee injury. Blount’s injury may not be chronic but you have to wonder about his longevity.
When he is playing, he’s a threat to go over 70 yards a game. He went over 100 against the Colts and the only game he finished under 70 was the 49ers game which he left early.
When it’s not Blount it has to be Graham or the Bucs suffer. Graham had a spectacular game against the Saints that made people forget how much of failure he was as a starter. But as soon as he went down the Bucs saw they had no depth past him.
Blount is crucial to keeping drives going and opening up the passing game. Without him busting a huge run in Minnesota, the Bucs might not have the dimensions to comeback against the VIkings no matter how terrible they are. Same can be said about the Colts game. Whenever the Bucs are coming back in games, LeGarrette Blount is a nice Scottie Pippen to Josh Freeman’s Micheal Jordan.
He’s at 400 yards but he is in no way elite yet. He’s 25th in overall running stats in the NFL with guys like Ben Tate, Cedric Benson and even a quarterback ahead of him (take a wild guess as to whom).
But it’s hard to deny the rhythm the Bucs offense has when Blount is pounding defenses. He adds a brutal dimension to this offense and if he does develop into the every down back he wants to be, that means only good things for the Bucs. But as of midseason, Blount has yet to really capture his potential in this backfield whether it’s his fault or not.
Mid-Seaosn Grade: B