Blount settling in to returner role for Patriots

Blount settling in to returner role for Patriots
October 31, 2013, 3:00 pm
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FOXBORO -- LeGarrette Blount doesn't fit the prototypical mold of an NFL kick returner. He isn't some lithe speedster who lit up stopwatches with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. He doesn't have the eye-popping lateral quickness that leaves would-be tacklers looking for their equipment after they've whiffed.

He's a bulldozer, a 6-foot-1, 245-pound block of muscle who invites contact and knows how to use his shoulder pads.

"I'm someone bigger," Blount said, comparing himself to others who do his job around the league. "I'm not as fast as most returners, but I'm a lot bigger so I can break tackles. I can fall forward for extra yards. I'm not slow. I'm just not as fast as them, that's all."

In his three-year NFL career prior to arriving in New England this season, Blount had never returned a kick. Still, thanks in part to injuries to fellow New England newcomer and return specialist Leon Washington, the Patriots have run Blount out as their primary kick returner since Week 1.

The results have been mixed. Blount owns a 23.1 yards per return average, which is 17th best in the league. His long return of 30 yards -- which came last week in a win over the Dolphins -- is the 18th best in the NFL among those with at least 10 returns.

Blount returned kicks in high school at Taylor County High in Perry, Fla. He also did it part time at Oregon during his college days. But returning kicks in the pros has taken some getting used to.

He said he works on his special teams craft both before and after practices. Whether Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is out there to kick to him, or whether a coach will send some flying using a JUGS machine, Blount works on judging angles and the wind while the ball is in the air.

"There's a lot of stuff to adjust to," he said. "If it's short, if it's long, if it's gonna curve, or if it's gonna die. How fast the whole game is moving in that aspect, how fast teams on kickoff are -- there's a lot of stuff to adjust to.

"I like it," he added. "I'm finally getting a feel for it, getting more comfortable."

The Patriots haven't had a real return threat since Brandon Tate was returning kicks in 2010, when he averaged 25.8 yards per return and possessed enough speed to strike fear into opposing special teams units. In 2011 Danny Woodhead averaged 21.9 yards per return and in 2012 Devin McCourty -- though he returned one for a touchdown -- was in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the league, averaging 24.2 yards per return.

Washington was expected to be a significant boost in New England's field-possession game. He was second in the NFL last season with 29.0 yards per kick return as a member of the Seahawks. Over the course of his career 25.9 yards per return and he's taken eight for touchdowns. Thigh and ankle injuries have limited him to just one return this season, which he took from six yards deep in his own end zone and returned to the Patriots 13.

This season, Washington and Blount share lockers side-by-side.

"I can't tell you the secrets he's taught me," Blount said. "I can't tell you all the secrets he's taught me, he's done taught me a few though. He's just told me I just gotta be patient with it, and know the return, and know what I'm supposed to be doing, as far as setting up my tracks and who I'm supposed to be looking at and stuff like that. Major keys: Know where the kicker goes and how he kicks the ball. You just gotta pay attention to all that stuff."

Washington smiled listening to his young teammate and pupil.

"I can't tell him too much," Washington said jokingly. "He's gonna take my job."

The Patriots are ninth in the league in starting field position, with their average starting line of scrimmage just inside their own 30-yard line.

As Blount gets more and more comfortable making reads of opposing kickers and kickoff units, he feels as though he can be more effective in his new job, using his bruising style to his advantage.

And even though he knows he's better off opting for extra yards after contact as opposed to dancing behind blockers and looking for daylight, he thinks that at some point he may surprise people by breaking a long one.

"That's the plan," he said. "I hope to take one to the house every time. That's what I wanna do. Hopefully sooner or later it'll happen."