Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 5/24/12
TAMPA The quest to get Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman back on track ranks as the biggest mission for the revamped offense of new head coach Greg Schiano and coordinator Mike Sullivan. But theres another priority running a close second: Wholl be taking the bulk of Freemans handoffs? Ask incumbent tailback LeGarrette Blount these days, and he leaves no doubt that the No. 1 job still belongs to him. Hes not concerned that the Bucs drafted Boise State running back Doug Martin in the first round and went to the trouble of trading back into that round to get him with the 31st overall pick last month. So with Martin and the seventh round addition of Utah State running back Michael Smith in the picture, does Blount think hes got a grasp on the starting assignment? Yeah, until they take it away, he said following a recent offseason training activity at One Buc Place. Blount certainly had his troubles last season, watching his rushing yardage drop from 1,007 yards and an average of 5.0 yards per carry in 2010 to 781 yards and 4.2 yards per carry in 2011. He also fumbled five times, losing three of them bringing his two-year total with the Bucs to nine fumbles and six lost. Thats something that caught the attention of new head coach Greg Schiano, no doubt prompting the decision to bulk up at the position through the draft. But the bruising, 6-foot, 247-pounder insists he controls his own destiny in the new running back competition that now exists. I think nobody can affect my carries but me, Blount said. We drafted him because we needed him, but at the end of the day, were both going to play but (nobody affects) my carries but me. Not what he does, only how I practice and how fast I get the offense down and things like that. Thats the only thing that will affect my carries. But one of the factors that will affect his playing time is his effectiveness as a receiver, which has limited him in third-down situations over the past two years. Hes seen only sporadic action in that capacity, catching only 20 passes for 162 yards. Martin, on the other hand, is known for his good hands, caught 28 passes in both his junior and senior seasons for Boise State for 593 yards and four touchdowns. Blount said he felt increasingly comfortable in passing downs last year, improving in pass-protection duties as well as pass-catching (with his reception total jumping from five to 15, and average yards per catch rising from 2.8 to 9.9 including a 35-yard grab and run early in the season). Im proving more and more every day that I can play every down, he said. Its still a process, but at the end of the day, I have the offense down pat pretty much, so Ive been showing them I can be an every-down back and Im in really good shape so the balls in my court. Asked about his running backs last week, Schiano made it clear that the competition is an open one, that performance in practice and training camp will dictate who gets the bulk of the carries this season. "We have to see who performs, he said. You earn your touches. So depending on how you practice and how you play in the preseason, that will determine how many touches you get by percentage, whether it's ball carriers or pass catchers or whatever. Pass catchers, sometimes the defense can dictate a little more. But ball carriers? We make that decision." General manager Mark Dominik likes the speed dynamic that Martin and Smith bring to the rushing attack. Those two players bring make-you-miss with speed they have that run-after-contact that we like as an organization, but I think they bring big-play ability, he said. Both have really good hands to catch the ball in the backfield. And I think the big thing is those explosion plays that we talk about and we dont have those guys can deliver them. Furthermore, Dominik hopes the added competition at tailback, specifically between Blount and Martin, will prove beneficial. I think they should complement each other and make each other better, because theyre going to push each other for playing time, he said. Theres not a running back who doesnt want an extra touch or extra opportunity, so thatll be a good complement for each other. Blount says he embraces the notion that competition will enhance his game. Yeah, I think I can become a better player by having other guys compete for the job, he said. Them drafting a running back might be what I needed to become an every-down back. You got to compete and be a competitor, and competition is what makes guys better than what they were being. He insists that he never got too comfortable last year as the Bucs workhorse, and knows he still has work toward establishing himself in the league. You can never be comfortable, he said. No one in the NFL can ever be comfortable. You have your select few that can, the Adrian Petersons and Ray Rices and Arian Fosters, but I havent gotten comfortable. I havent established that kind of credibility yet. But hes determined to try, even though he could be fighting for more carries now. I want to run it as many times as theyll give it to me. Ten, 20, 30, he said. And when I get it, Im going to run it as hard as I can. Doing his best to stay one step ahead of the rookies.
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