Commentary | LeGarrette Blount-Doug Martin battle should make sparks fly at Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp

adell@bradenton.comJune 22, 2012 

One of the biggest battles heading into Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp will focus on running backs LeGarrette Blount and first-round draft pick Doug Martin.

Blount's critics say he fumbles too much, can't run laterally and is not smart enough to pick up pass-blocking schemes.

Martin is being heralded as a savior in some circles, but caution flags should be raised. He played for a Boise State team that had a less-than-stellar schedule and overpowered many opponents, with Martin the benefactor.

He's diminutive, but strong. He doesn't have top NFL speed, but is solid with a 4.55-second 40-yard dash.

Martin was not highly regarded in high school.

He was basically ignored.

That was five years ago, but history has proven when it comes to NFL players, especially first-round picks, everything has to be considered.

Among the 32 first-round picks in this year's NFL draft, Martin was the lowest-rated player coming out of high school by Phil Steele's magazine, which is commonly known as the most accurate college football prognostication publication in the country.

Martin was rated the

279th best running back by Steele and one of just three first-round picks in 2012 who was not rated among the top 100 at their positions during their senior year of high school.

The others are defensive lineman Shea McClain (also from Boise State) and Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who at 28 years old is an anomaly.

Rivals.com rated Martin a two-star running back at St. Mary's in Stockton, Calif., in 2007 and he was unranked.

Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, two running backs Bucs enthusiasts like to compare Martin with, came out of high school more touted. Jones-Drew was a four-star prospect, and Rice had three stars.

Standing alone, those figures might not seem important, but looking at how Martin's rushing numbers were down against the few better-than-average teams Boise State faced last year raises concern.

Martin does fit the mold of new Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano because he comes from a program that is noted for producing disciplined players who are taught to do the little things that bring big results (toes on the line, please).

But the question remains: Did the Bucs overpay for the 5-foot-9, 223-pound Martin and waste a first-round pick on a player they perhaps could've gotten later?

His three biggest rushing games came against some of the worst defenses in the country.

Martin's high was 200 yards rushing against Colorado State, which ranked 116th in rush defense and 85th overall among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

His second-highest game was 153 yards against Wyoming, which ranked 115th in run defense and 98th in overall defense. He had 151 yards against Arizona State (78th run defense/68th overall).

He struggled against his best opponent, Georgia (fifth overall defense), gaining a season-low 57 yards, and was gained fewere than 100 yards against Toledo (9-4) and Tulsa (8-5).

On the other hand, the 6-0, 247-pound Blount could be getting shortchanged in his evaluation because of circumstances not under his control. He will be entering his third NFL year, but it will be the first time he has had a full offseason to work with the team.

In his first season (2010), Blount was picked up on waivers from the Tennessee Titans and spent the offseason with the Titans. Last year, he was thrown into flux because of the labor dispute and lockout.

Blount said this offseason has enabled him to improve his pass blocking and understanding of how to pick up blitzes while becoming a more secure ball carrier.

Blount was rated two stars by Rivals.com and Scout.com following his career at Taylor County High in Perry, Fla. He turned himself into the top junior college running back prospect by Rivals after two years at East Mississippi Community College.

He is not ready to concede anything to Martin, which should make for a lively camp.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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