NFL conference championships: Given chance by Patriots, RB LeGarrette Blount rebounds
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Check out the video of LeGarrette Blount.
Not the one of him punching an opponent at a college game. Or the one showing him smacking an NFL teammate during a preseason practice.
Try these: Blount returning kickoffs for 83 and 62 yards, and dashing 73, 36 and 35 yards for touchdowns, all in his last two games.
Given a chance by the New England Patriots to revive his career, the 250-pound back is running over and away from defenders while leaving behind images of a hot-headed youngster putting his future in jeopardy.
Back-to-back rushing performances of 189 and 166 yards have sparked a run on his jersey.
“It’s nice to know that people like me out here,” he said. “It’s nice to know that they’re enjoying the wins.”
At the Patriots Pro Shop, “in recent weeks, Blount’s jersey is in great demand,” team spokesman Stacey James said Wednesday.
Bill Belichick is thrilled to have the real No. 29 for Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Broncos in Denver.
“LeGarrette’s been great,” the coach said. “He’s done the things we’ve asked him to do. When a player does that, I don’t think he can do anything but earn the respect of all the people around him.”
It’s quite a turnaround from an ugly moment in college when Blount punched Byron Hout, a Boise State defensive end who had taunted him at the end of Oregon’s loss in the opening game of Blount’s senior season in 2009. Blount was restrained by teammates and fuming as he was led toward the locker room — a scene still just a mouse-click away.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly suspended him for the season, and then reinstated him after eight games when he met academic and behavioral requirements.
They reunited last summer when the Patriots went to Philadelphia for joint practices with Kelly’s Eagles.
“I had a chance to give him a big hug and I’m very proud of him,” Kelly said. “I told him he shouldn’t be defined by an incident that happened on Sept. 3rd, 2009, because that’s not the type of person LG is.”
At Oregon, Kelly referred Blount to former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy for advice.
“He’s been through a lot,” Dungy told The Associated Press. “I do know that people at Oregon really respect him. He’s made the most of his second opportunity. He had to go through a lot to get reinstated and he did that. He took care of things and really did what he had to do and that showed me that he truly did want to succeed.”
But the punch and suspension prompted every team to bypass him in the draft. So he signed as a free agent with Tennessee. That’s where he threw a punch in training camp after his helmet was knocked off for the second straight play.
“He apologized, and I said he didn’t have to apologize,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said then. “His past is his past. Is that the first punch you’ve seen in camp this year? No. I’m not disappointed whatsoever.”
They released him after camp, hoping to put him on the practice squad. But Tampa Bay signed him and he rushed for 1,007 yards as a rookie.
Buccaneers coaches felt Blount had trouble blocking, receiving and learning the playbook. And when they drafted running back Doug Martin in 2012, Blount’s days in Tampa Bay seemed numbered.
Blount’s production is finally matching what Belichick had seen.
“Certainly, he’s had some outstanding games recently, but he’s been a solid player for us all the way through,” Belichick said. “Nothing has been given to him. He’s earned everything he’s gotten. I think that’s totally respected by everybody in the organization.”
Brady sits out practice
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are taking Tom Brady’s absence from practice in stride.
Four days before the AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos, the star quarterback missed practice Wednesday because of illness and his right shoulder, the Patriots said in their practice report.
Brady said last week that he had a cold. Then he led the Patriots to a 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC playoff game on a rainy Saturday night. Earlier in the season, he was listed on the injury report with the shoulder condition but usually practiced with it.
By wire sources