When Bill Belichick traded for LeGarrette Blount during the 2013 NFL Draft, most assumed it was a training camp body that wouldn't make much of a difference when the real games began. After all, Stevan Ridley was coming off a season where he ran for 1,200 yards and established himself as a very good NFL running back. Ridley wasn't perfect, but his fumbling issues could be fixed, or at least that's what everyone assumed. Problem is, once a player in ANY sport starts to have mental issues regarding certain techniques of their sport, all bets are off. Baseball players get the "yips" with overthrows (see- Chuck Knoblauch) and football players, running backs specifically, develop fumbling/ball security issues. Bill Belichick is not the type of coach that is going to give up turnovers to get a player on track; he'll simply move on to the next player. That is where Mr. Blount came into play.
Blount wasn't used as a bell-cow, but his affect on the Patriots offense was obvious. In 2013, Blount ran for 772 yards and seven touchdowns on 153 carries, with most of his yardage coming towards the end of the year. In the final two games vs. Baltimore and Buffalo, Blount ran for a combined 265 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries. He also had two kickoff returns for 145 yards in the Buffalo game. Blount then followed up his strong finish with a 24 carry/166 yard/four touchdown performance in the divisional playoffs vs. the Colts. With Ridley being unreliable, the Patriots found a Godsend in Blount that could handle the same load and may even be a better pure runner than Ridley. The Broncos were able to contain him in the AFC Championship, but they also contained the rest of the offense too. Regardless of the AFC Title game, Blount proved his worth and ability to the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.
When the offseason began in March, most believed that the Patriots would find a way to bring Blount back into the fold. The thought was he didn't have a TON of yards and because of his past issues, nobody would give him the money he wanted. Belichick and Nick Caserio had a specific amount allotted to give the big back out of Oregon, but if anyone offered more, they would let him walk. Enter the Pittsburgh Steelers and their need for depth at running back; Blount agreed to a two year deal that featured incentives based off of playing time. At the time of the deal, the Steelers planned on using Blount the same way the Patriots did in 2013- as a 1A-platoon back. It worked with Stevan Ridley so it made sense that it would also work with Leveon Bell. Funny thing happened though- Bell became one of the best backs in the league and the Steelers, being smart, decided it was time to make Bell a full time back and scrapped the platoon they promised to Blount when they signed him. Blount wasn't at all happy with this and walked off the field during the Tennessee game, which was extremely unprofessional, and the next day he was released. Blount, an extremely talented but impulsive player, was once again looking for a team.
When the Steelers placed Blount on waivers, he wasn't picked up. Players that quit on their teams and walk off during a game are typically blackballed, unless they are talented enough to garner one more chance. Blount had his issues in college with the end-of-game handshake knockout punch, and he lost his job in Tampa Bay (Doug Martin pretty much made him expendable), which led to his trade to New England. Blount was able to redeem himself in 2013, but his cardinal sin of quitting mid-game appeared to be the final straw. Bill Belichick and the Patriots didn't see it that way, and they signed him to a two-year-team friendly contract. Blount is playing on a one strike basis, but sometimes that's what it takes for a person to realize what they could lose. Blount issued an apology to the Steelers organization and he's back where he belongs- with the coach who demands the ultimate respect. It is worth noting that Blount played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, and Belichick respects the heck out of Kelly. If Chip told Bill it was worth picking him up again, Bill would listen.
Many fans and media alike were confused by the return of Blount; the main question was "why"? The answer is very simple- why not? There were some that pointed to the great performance of Jonas Gray against Indy, but that was one game. Blount did the same thing to Indy in January, so it is clear that huge running stats against the Colts are more scheme than talent. Gray has never been a regular starter in the NFL, so why would the Patriots rely on him and Brandon Bolden as their pure between-the-tackles backs when they know that Blount is available and able to do things the aforementioned backs can't? Gray doesn't have the same breakaway ability and footwork as Blount, and Bolden has simply struggled when he's gotten a shot. The Blount pickup wasn't just a luxury, it's a necessity. The debate came to an abrupt end when Jonas Gray was late for practice Friday and sent home, placing Blount right into the mix for the Lions game on Sunday.
When Blount got his first carry, it couldn't have been a more perfect scenario. Danny Amendola returned the kickoff 81 yards to setup the offense at the 22 yard line, and after a Brandon LaFell catch for 16 yards and an encroachment penalty from Detroit, the Patriots were on the three yard line. Blount got the carry and hammered his way into the end zone to put the Patriots ahead, 14-6. It was hard to believe that just a week before he was standing on the Steelers sideline wondering if he'd ever get the playing time he was promised. His playing time came, just in a Patriots uniform instead. Blount carried the ball 11 more times and finished the game with 78 yards and two touchdowns; not bad for a guy who cleared waivers and thought that his career may be over.
The re-signing of Blount not only helps the Patriots for the remainder of 2014, it will also pay dividends in 2015. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden are all free agents at seasons end. The Patriots now have Blount, James White, and Tyler Gaffney under contract for next season. There is a good chance that will be the Patriots running back core going forward, especially considering Ridley will be returning from major reconstructive knee surgery. Vereen has been decent, but his injuries have curtailed his production and he also appears to have lost a step. James White hasn't shown much this year, but a year in the system and the weight room will prepare him to be a better contributor next year. Gaffney is the wild card; many teams liked him going into the draft and the Panthers were able to snag him, but when he got hurt in camp, they attempted to sneak him through waivers and the Patriots pounced. Nobody should be surprised if Blount and Gaffney share the bulk of the carries with White taking over the third down duties; add Jonas Gray to the mix and that is a strong group of backs. The Patriots made a mistake when didn't sign Blount last offseason, but his new deal with the Patriots proves they realized what he brings to their team, and Blount finally has a place he can call home.
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