Martin Fennelly Columns
Blount needs to help get Bucs' ground game rolling
TAMPA - Josh Freeman stayed in Tampa during the bye week. "I was planning on going out of town, but I just didn't really feel like traveling anymore," Freeman said. Maybe it was those trips to San Francisco and London. Maybe the losses didn't help. But here is 5, ready for this weekend's jaunt to New Orleans and the second half.He isn't going anywhere without a running attack, and by that we mean running well. That brings us to LeGarrette Blount, who appears sufficiently recovered from a knee injury against the 49ers, enough to step in for the injured Earnest Graham, who'd stepped in for Blount. It can't be about Kregg Lumpkin, bless his heart. The Bucs need a real running game, a consistent threat — now . "I feel good," Blount said. "Everything is where it needs to be." It's not rocket science, kids. "Every team starts out with a running game," Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn said. "New Orleans wants to get the run going. Drew Brees is a great quarterback, but every quarterback is great when they get the run going." Everything from the Bucs' offense to Freeman's running lanes to his passing lanes, too, a world of play-action possibilities. Last time around with New Orleans, with Graham making yards, it set up a play-action deep ball to Arrelious Benn for a long touchdown. The Bucs rank only 10th in the NFC in yards per carry. When they make ground, they make wins. Since the beginning of last season, the Bucs are 12-3 in games when they rush for at least 100 yards and 10-2 when an individual Bucs back runs for at least 70 yards. They're 8-2 when the back is Blount. He's not Adrian Peterson, but he matters when he runs well. That was the ticket in the second half last season. Blount and the offensive line wearing teams down, controlling things. Freeman said, "If you have the running game rolling, picking up big chunks every time you have the ball, the linebackers have to respect the flash fake, the play action. That opens things up down the field. Yeah, for sure, when we're rolling, it opens everything up." The Bucs can run on the Saints. Most teams can. They did last month. They ran for just 30 yards in London, though they were down to one running back, no fullback. "What team can run with one running back?" Penn asked. "I tip my hat to Lumpkin for being in there, all those snaps, no complaints, but it's hard when you have only one guy." Now they'll have Blount, even on third down, though that could be quite the adventure. Without Graham, the Bucs have no choice. A good running game feeds into the line and the receivers and vice versa. "They start to tag team off each other," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. Freeman needs a healthy running game, a healthy Blount, or forget it. Together, they could make it work. "Oh, yeah, most definitely," Blount said. "He feeds off me with my play-action fakes and I feed off him with him giving me the ball and carrying out the fakes. There's a big-play potential all around us." They better bring it to New Orleans. There's ground to gain.