LeGarrette Blount ran for 1,007 yards in 2010 despite having little to do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rushing attack until Game Seven. He did that with a team-record 5.0 yards per carry on just 201 totes. Blount is 24 years old and clearly itching to prove that he never should have gone undrafted, much less been cut at the end of the preseason by the Tennessee Titans.
So it is natural to project what Blount might accomplish as a 16-week, every-down back (especially if you happen to be a fantasy football player). Here's what Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris had to say when asked that very question:
"I don't know if I'm looking for an every-down back. I like what we do. We kind of spread the ball around, we do different things with different people. We play to their strengths. I think that's the strength of our coaching staff who look at those guys out there and what they can do."
Now, we're not implying that fantasy analysts should pump their brakes on the LeGarrette Blount love. He clearly will be the bell cow in the Bucs' rushing attack, and it's definitely reasonable to expect his numbers to go up by a nice percentage in 2011. But there will be a number-two back in the mix, and maybe a number-three, and it sounds like they won't be around just to fill up the depth chart.
Kregg Lumpkin could be that number-two back.
Lumpkin actually arrived in Tampa one day before Blount. Both were shrewd waiver claims by General Manager Mark Dominik after the final round of cuts around the league. Lumpkin had spent two years in Green Bay, getting into two games as a rookie and then toiling on the practice squad in 2009. Given Blount's relative inexperience, there was some thought that Lumpkin might contribute more immediately while Blount focused on learning for later in the year or 2011. Instead, Blount exploded on the scene and Lumpkin fell into a reserve role behind him and Cadillac Williams.
As 2011 dawns, however, Lumpkin has a chance to slide into the number-two spot behind Blount. On Sunday, he took the second rep in the team run drill during practice, after Blount had taken the first. Williams is currently an unrestricted free agent and the ever useful and available Earnest Graham is primarily playing fullback. The rest of the tailbacks on the Bucs' roster are all rookies; sixth-round pick Allen Bradford is a bruiser in Blount's mold and the rest are undrafted small-and-quick guys like Mossis Madu who might prove useful as change-of-pace runners.
Williams might return, which would obviously complicate the depth chart for Lumpkin, and one of the young backs could prove too good to ignore. But there is no doubt that the Buccaneers are interested in seeing if Lumpkin can take over a larger role.
"It's been nice to watch Kregg Lumpkin for a whole season," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "We got him here last year the same time we got LeGarrette. You can never have enough of those guys. He's been around, he's learned the system, he's worked scout team for us. He knows how we work, he knows how we play. In some ways he's a vet with our football team so having him out there has been a bonus. Seeing what roles he can fill, seeing how he can fit us, will be fun this preseason. We have a chance to get him out there for four preseason games and see what he really can do. We have to go through the practices here, of course, and obviously go through pads but I am really fired up to see what Kregg Lumpkin can do in a Tampa Bay uniform. We had a chance to see him in a Green Bay uniform and he was pretty good. That's why we went and got him. I'm pretty excited about him in a Tampa Bay uniform."
The good news for Lumpkin is that he doesn't have to worry that those are empty words. Since taking over in 2009, Morris has shown time and again that he's willing to let young and unproven players earn significant roles, regardless of how they came into the league or arrived in town. The Bucs thought there was something worth having in Lumpkin when he hit the waiver wire a year ago, and now is his chance to prove it.
"I'm excited," said the former Georgia tailback. "I'm just out here having fun. I'm going to continue to learn the playbook, continue to have fun out here and just try to earn a spot on the team. Just take it one day at a time, continue to learn in the classroom, come out here and show it on the field."
Williams was the Bucs' second choice behind Blount after the tailback depth chart shook out in October and November, and for good reason. He's a superb blocker for the quarterback on passing plays, he catches the ball well out of the backfield and he was already a proven first and second-down runner. Lumpkin thinks he can bring a similarly full package to the table.
"I pride myself on trying to be a good pass-protector, protecting the quarterback and catching the ball out of the backfield," he said. "That's one of my attributes that I can contribute to this team. I haven't heard anything about [Williams' status]. I'm just out here trying to get better for myself and continue to help this team as much as I can."
Of course, that organizational willingness to give a shot to anyone who earns it amounts to a threat to Lumpkin's status, as well, as it applies to all the team's young backs. He can no more worry about that, however, than about the return of Williams or how the depth chart might look on August 1.
"I'm very hungry, but I've just got to stay humble and continue to work hard, and just prove to the coaches that I can play and be that next guy," said Lumpkin. "All the guys out here are learning the playbook really well, really fast and coming out here and performing to the best of their abilities. We're just out here competing against each other trying to make each other better."