It seemed as though the most noteworthy accomplishment LeGarrette Blount would have in his football career was putting a punk to cool.
While NFL scouts knew of Blount and his ability as a running back at Oregon, most football fans didn't become familiar with him until after his Ducks lost to Boise State. In the celebration, Boise State linebacker Byron Hout taunted Blount by hitting him on the shoulder pads. Blount responded with a clean punch to the jaw that sent Hout flopping to the ground – the liability punks face when picking fights with the wrong guy.
The firestorm that followed took Blount, who was rated as a mid-round draft prospect in 2010, off the draft boards of almost every team. He went undrafted and, after being courted by San Francisco, he signed with Tennessee. He survived the final roster cuts, but, when the Titans made a couple of waiver claims, Blount was released with the intent of re-signing him when he cleared waivers. He didn't. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed Blount and the rest has been the makings of a TV movie.
He didn't play until Week 3 of the 2010 season. He didn't start until Week 11. Yet he finished the season with 201 carries for 1,007 yards and became the featured back of the Buccaneers offense, which lost Blount's primary competition when Cadillac Williams was allowed to leave via free agency.
Blount's running style is much like his punching prowess, straight and direct. In many ways, he has become the poster boy for the image the Bucs want to portray – a smashmouth team that can run the ball down an opponent's throat, like it or not.
"I think they really want to try to run the football," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "They've got some big guys back there. LeGarrette Blount is going to carry most of the load. They're very capable of passing the ball, but they are a team that wants to run the ball. That seems what they want their identity to be. They didn't get that done probably as much as they wanted to in Week 1, so they're probably going to try to do that in Week 2."
The success Blount and Bucs' run offense enjoyed late last season – in his final five games, Blount rushed 87 times for 511 yards – helped improve the team from a 0-7 dreg at midseason of 2009 to a 10-6 team on the cusp of the playoffs in 2010. In their Week 1 loss to Detroit, the Bucs running backs carried just 11 times for 28 yards and Blount vented after the game. His comment wasn't missed by linebackers coach Mike Singletary, who warned Erin Henderson and the rest of the linebacker corps to be ready for a more steady diet of Blount this Sunday than what the Lions saw last week.
"They have a dedication to doing what they do," Henderson said. "They believe they can run on anybody and usually try to pound the ball at you, establish the running game and build off it from there. Coach Singletary gave us a heads-up today that they were kind of frustrated coming out of the game last week, so would should expect them to try to come out and establish the run this week."
The Bucs may believe that the lack of the Williams Wall will create big openings for Blount and the rest of the Buccaneers through the middle of the Vikings front line. Letroy Guion said that may be a mistake.
Guion is going to be in the middle of it all and, given Blount's running style, he can be expected to see plenty of him on Sunday, as both teams try to impose their dominance upon the other.
"He's a powerful, in-between-the-tackles guy that runs downhill," Guion said. "We like to go strength on strength. We pride ourselves on stopping the run. He makes strong cuts if he gets a hole, so it's going to be our job to make sure he gets on the ground and gets as little yardage as possible."
Over the last few years, one of the consistent Vikings strengths has been to limit the effectiveness of power runners whose forte is running between the tackles. Few runners have been successful and it looks like a classic boxing matchup between two heavy hitters. The Vikings are convinced that, if the Bucs try to establish the middle run, they will be heading into the teeth of what the Vikings do best.
"A big running back usually doesn't try to get too fancy," defensive tackle Fred Evans said. "They tend to run north and south. We pride ourselves on being able to stop that kind of run. That's their bread-and-butter, so it will be one of those situations where they're going to do what works for them and we're going to do what works for us."
There aren't too many secrets to how both teams are coming into Sunday's game. Blount and Bucs intend to show why they were able to gash defenses on the ground last year. The Vikings are out to prove that – with or without the Williams Wall – teams run in the middle at their own risk.
"They know what they want to get done and we know what we want to get done," Greenway said. "That's obviously what it comes down to. It'll be a great game and very competitive."
And the winner of that battle will likely be the team that wins the game.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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