LeGarrette Blount hasn't had the easiest offeason: he stuck his foot in his mouth before the draft when he ripped the idea of the Buccaneers drafting a running back with their first pick. He backed off those comments, and they didn't use their first pick on a back ... but they promptly traded back into the first round to grab Doug Martin.
It didn't help matters when Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times wrote that Blount needed a car service to get three miles to practice last year. New Bucs coach Greg Schiano, appearing on CBS Sports Network's ROME, downplayed Blount's problems, though, saying that those are "all behind us" and that LeGarrette's issues in 2011 "got blown out of proportion a little bit."
"No I think that probably got blown out of proportion a little bit," Schiano told Rome. "He probably had some troubles, but I'm not really familiar with the facts. But that's all behind us. LeGarrette's been great. We've had workouts here -- OTAs, minicamps -- and he's been on time for everything. It hasn't been an issue at all. I don't foresee that being an issue."
Schiano's not exactly scared of running the ball -- at Rutgers Ray Rice carried the ball 380 times in 2007 -- so it stands to reason that there will be lots of touches in Tampa Bay. But it's still going to be a fascinating camp battle to watch.
And Schiano doesn't feel any differently -- he also praised Blount's willingness to buy into what the Bucs are doing.
"I agree with you -- we have a great battle going there. Not only those two guys but with Michael Smith and Mossis Madu as well," Schiano said. "I think we have some good depth at running back and I think the battle's going to be something to watch. I have a lot of faith in LeGarrette. LeGarrette has bought into what we're doing, he's working incredibly hard and if you watch and you see the things he does from time-to-time it's great and really great running back plays. We just need to put those together consistently again -- if you look offensively and defensively that is the thing we need to do. We need to become consistent because there are glimpses in 2011 where we did things very well."
With all that depth, the running game might not be the issue for the Bucs. Instead, quarterback -- as I noted in the season preview -- is the real X-Factor. And Schiano believes that Josh Freeman, who struggled badly in 2011, is ready to "take a step."
"I really believe he is [the guy]," Schiano told Rome. "I think Josh has worked incredibly hard since we've arrived. And you can see the burning desire in him to be great. The guy's a young guy -- he's 24 years old. Although he's been in the league a while, he really is a young guy and a guy that's ready to take a step. And we're going to try and help him do that, that's what coaches do but ultimately it's going to be up to him and I'm confident he'll do it."
As for what happened last season? Well, Schiano doesn't necessarily believe that Freeman took a step back in 2011. Instead, he seemed to put plenty of blame on the supporting cast around Freeman.
"It's hard to say. I've studied  and then I've studied 2011 and certainly the numbers would say that but I think the quarterback's a huge part of your team, but the supporting cast as well," Schiano said. "And things kind of broke down in several areas last year, so we kind of take the approach, 'Look we're going to start over, and you know you've done it in this league and done it very well, so we're just going to try and help you do it and help you do it consistently.' So that's been our mantra."
The only thing the Bucs did in 2011 consistently was give up rushing yards and, ultimately, lose games. They didn't have enough firepower on the offensive end to keep pace with the teams who were running roughshod over them and it cost Raheem Morris his job.
Schiano has to be concerned about the defense this season, but if he can get consistent play out of the offense -- which should be easier with the addition of Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks as well -- the Bucs will be much more competitive in 2012 than they were before Schiano got there.
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