New Pittsburgh Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount was interviewed yesterday on the radio, as we’ve previously posted, but I wanted to expand on some of the comments that he made during the interview pertaining to how he views himself being used this season based on his conversations with the team.
While he mentioned that they “definitely” want him to handle some short-yardage and goal line duties, that is hardly surprising. There was a more revealing comment that he made later on in the interview.
They’re not going to limit me to anything off the past due to what I’ve done with past teams. If I’m able to do the third down stuff with them, then they’re going to let me do it. If I’m able to do the protections and the ball catching stuff with them, they’re going to let me do it. They’re not going to put a limit on anything that I can do.
I think the Steelers are smart not to “put him in a box”, as Mike Tomlin will most likely say in describing Blount’s role at some point this year. In fact, I may put money down on the chances of him using that phrase in talking about him at some point this year.
I’ve written earlier this offseason about the impressions of Blount that have followed him to Pittsburgh and tried to decipher the truth. The truth is that while he’s a big back, he hasn’t always played as a big back, coming out of college as a zone runner with surprising agility for his frame.
Over time, he’s come to be used an early downs runner, not often used in passing situations or in short-yardage. Some of that has to do with his skill set, naturally, but it also has a lot to do with the situations he’s been in.
Remember, in 2011, his second year in the league, he did catch 15 passes for 148 yards. Even in his best year, Rashard Mendenhall maxed out at 25 receptions. In 2012, Blount was subverted by Doug Martin in his final year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When he was traded to the New England Patriots, they primarily used Shane Vereen in the passing game. He had 47 receptions last season in eight games. Stevan Ridley was the primary target when Vereen wasn’t healthy, and Branden Bolden was generally designated the third down pass protector.
There wasn’t much meat left on the bone for Blount, who was given his role simply because the Patriots didn’t need to use him in a bigger role, as they already had three other running backs that they were more than satisfied with. Blount wasn’t even a sure thing to make the roster following the trade. He had to earn his playing time.
Some like to draw a causative relationship between Blount’s limited role in certain functions of the game and a supposed inability to fulfill those roles, and I’m relieved to hear that the Steelers are not among that group.
Blount wound up playing a little more than 100 snaps in passing situations with the Patriots last year, and while he only registered two receptions (turning one into a 32-yard gain), he spent about a third of that time in pass protection.
Pro Football Focus has him pass protecting on 39 snaps during the regular season without giving up a pressure, and as the screen grab above demonstrates, it’s a job that he can handle.
Blount is a professional who at 27 is still on an upward trend in his career with respect to building an all-around game. He can handle pass protection duties. He can catch the ball (nine of his 23 receptions have gone for at least 10 yards). He can convert on third down and punch it in at the goal line.
While he’ll never be asked to carry the load behind Le’Veon Bell barring injury, and thus should only see time in situational football in moderation, it’s somewhat of a pleasure to learn that the Steelers don’t intend to put a ceiling on what he can offer.
After all, Blount said during the interview that Mike Tomlin told him he believes the Steelers “can get everything they want done with two” backs, while other teams use three or four. To me, that means that Blount will do a little bit of everything, with Bell taking on a lot of everything.