Make some room in backfield for LeGarrette Blount
The big kid was in the open now. Nothing was going to stop him. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay's favorite running back, was barreling down the right sideline, picking up speed as he went, daring anyone to get in his way.
For all of the runs he made, the ones where he dragged defenders, the ones where he hurdled an opponent, the ones where he seemed to have run all the way to the starting job, this was the play he would remember.
He ran toward his goal, never slowing down, never slacking off. His helmet was gone, and his restraint. Cadillac Williams had just caught the winning touchdown against the Rams, and by golly, Blount was going to celebrate with him.
Before you demand a change in the depth chart, before you decide to park a Cadillac, before you anoint Blount as the Alstott-in-waiting, consider this image of the back with the battered knees and the one with the battered image.
Williams was in the southwest corner of the stadium, a few yards away from where he had made his winning catch. For the moment, at least, the applause was Williams' again, and he stood there, lost in the afterglow. And then Blount was there, grabbing Williams, lifting him into the air, sharing the celebration. There they were, the Bucs' starting running back and his backup, and you might as well begin the argument of who is which.
If Sunday's 18-17 win over the Rams proved anything, it is that there is room in the backfield for both. Yes, it is time that Blount became the primary running back for the Bucs. No, it is not yet time to throw Williams away.
Imagine the situation through the eyes of the veteran. He knows. Of course he knows. Football is a game of production, and even Williams can see the way Blount wades through a defense. Think of it as Blount Force, a reckless, relentless style. There is something raw there, something brutal.
Williams can see it, too. "He ran through some tackles like … wow," Williams said. "He's so strong. He has good feet, good vision. He's got a bright future."
If you put it to a vote, most people might suggest that Blount has a pretty good present, too. He had 72 yards on 11 carries against the Rams, including 66 yards in the second half. The number would be bigger if his 46-yard run in the fourth quarter hadn't been called back because of an illegal block.
You may define it as simply as this: When Blount had the ball in his hands, everything changed. Suddenly, the Bucs had a running game. They looked powerful and strong, and suddenly, the opposition was holding on and waiting for help to arrive. You haven't seen that sort of effort, and that many defenders being dragged along, since the days of Mike Alstott.
"He's Alstott-ish," is the way cornerback Ronde Barber put it. "Except that he's more athletic than Mike. Not taking anything away from Mike, but (Blount) hurdled a dude … and the dude was standing up."
Let's be honest. It has been a very long time since Williams has had that sort of an effect on a game. Yes, he is tough, and yes, he knows his assignments. But his knee surgeries have taken some of his burst, and there are far too many 1-yard carries on his resume. For the season, he is averaging 2.5 yards a carry.
For most backs in the league, it often comes to this. There is some kid with fresh legs waiting to take the baton. Williams' job? Make it hard for him.
"I still have some things to give," Williams said. "But it isn't about me. It's about the team. I'm here to play football, whether it's getting 10 snaps or 60 snaps, whether it's me taking a backseat. It isn't going to change my attitude or my morale."
Yes, there is still a place. On the Bucs' winning drive, Williams caught five passes. He also had a 10-yard run on third and 3. Think of this. On second and goal from the Rams 1, how many Bucs fans wanted Blount in the game? And how many changed their minds when Williams caught the winner? Yeah, there is more to give.
Imagine the situation through the eyes of the new kid. The fans know his name now, and with every yard he gains, some of the tarnish comes off his reputation. Once, Blount did a very dumb thing, and because of it, he has had to come into the NFL the hard way.
Given that, perhaps you would think Sunday's performance would have been a great time for a bit of chest-beating. Others might demand the ball. Still others might write a book about it.
Blount? He's the kid running downfield to embrace his teammate.
"It's not my turn yet," said Blount, who will get some disagreement today. "I've got to pay my dues. Cadillac has been wonderful here his whole career. He and Earnest Graham have carried the load. I just want to be a part of it."
After Sunday's performance, how can he not be a bigger part? How can he not start? Yeah, yeah. Coaches keep talking about how Blount still needs to work on his pass protections. And that's true.
But here's an idea. How about coaching the guy? When you have a back who can wade through a defense, isn't the job to find a way to keep the guy on the field? "I'm not trying to take it," Blount said. "I'm not trying to overstep my boundaries at all. As long as (Williams) is here, I wouldn't mind complementing him. Not a bit."
Once, when Blount was a high school player in Perry, his favorite college running backs were Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn. He was also a Florida Gators fan, and so he remembers Graham, too.
"Now, I'm under their wings," he said. "They're my mentors. They're coaching me up."
Soon, the roles will change. Blount will take over, and Williams will come in for third downs and catch the ball out of the backfield. In the NFL, that passes for the circle of life.
"Everybody has a role for us," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "We're not going to play the game of fighting daggers and throwing stones for who's going to run out of the tunnel."
Perhaps not. But in the NFL, the better player is supposed to play the most often. If you wonder who that is, merely ask the defenders of the Rams. Provided, of course, you can scrape them from the bottom of Blount's cleats.
|About the writer|
Gary Shelton has been writing for The St.Petersburg Times for more years than he probably cares to remember and adds feature opinions on all sports outside of the Buccaneers. But during the season in Tampa Bay, he is at each game offering a diverse view on the on and off-field activities. He came over to London for the International Series game in 2009 and produced a front-page feature on the Bucs UK.