Bruising Blount leads Patriots vs. Broncos
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) works a running drill during a stretching and drills session before practice begins at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. The Patriots will play the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game Sunday in Denver. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) drags Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) with his during the second half of an AFC divisional NFL playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
FOXBOROUGH — 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.
“The media can put you in whatever kind of light,” said Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who became friends with Blount when they were teammates at Tampa Bay. “He’s the same guy here, just a regular guy.”
During last year’s draft, he was traded to the Patriots for running back Jeff Demps and a seventh-round draft choice. Now he’s a win away from the Super Bowl after his two historic games — a team record 334 all-purpose yards in the regular-season finale against Buffalo and the 166 yards rushing that tied the Patriots single-game playoff record. He ran for four touchdowns in the 43-22 divisional-round win over Indianapolis and eight in his last three games.
“He’s a load,” said Broncos safety Omar Bolden, who faced Blount in college. “They’re definitely putting a challenge on the DBs, man, to make those tackles one-on-one in the open field. So far, it’s a formula of success for them, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t come in here and do the same thing.”
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.”
He also praised Blount’s all-around ability — in the passing game, running game and kickoff returns.
“He’s a hard guy to tackle,” Belichick said. “I think he’s been solid.”
In demand by the media recently, he’s been available on a regular basis.
On Wednesday, he wore black workout pants with the word “OREGON” on one leg and a dark blue Patriots sweatshirt. He even took time to explain the pronunciation of his name.
“I can see where it’s confusing,” he said, “but the ‘O’ is silent.”
He’s making his loudest statements on the field for owner Robert Kraft’s team. Blount said he’s fit in well with his teammates and “nobody really talks about” the punch at Boise State.
And after all he’s been through — at Oregon, Tennessee and Tampa Bay — he said he doesn’t take extra satisfaction in his success.
“I just come out here and play,” Blount said. “Bill and Mr. Kraft saw something in me that they liked and they brought me aboard. And I came out here and did what they wanted me to do.”
Brady no-show at practice
The 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.
Backup Ryan Mallett did double duty Wednesday. He was the quarterback for the offense and also emulated Denver quarterback Peyton Manning for the defense.
“I’m not worried about Tom because I know Tom,” Mallett said.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught 105 passes from Brady this season, said practice is different without him.
“But Ryan came in and he ran the offense,” Edelman said. “And, more importantly, I was just kind of worrying about what I had to do to get my assignments and get my work in. I’m sure other guys were thinking the same thing.”
Brady’s scheduled media availability was canceled. He’s scheduled for another one Friday.
As for Mallett, “it was fun,” he said. “I took a lot more reps, though. I was a little more fatigued at the end than normal so that was the only difference.” Coach Bill Belichick provided no details on Brady’s absence.
Asked the last time that Brady surprised his coach of 14 years, Belichick said, with a smile, “this morning.”
What was the surprise?
“We’ll keep that between Tom and I,” he said.
Long snapper Danny Aiken also missed practice with an illness. Punter Ryan Allen, who hurt his shoulder against the Colts, practiced on a limited basis.