LeGarrette Blount fumbles must stop

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Tampa Bay’s new head coach Greg Schiano spent the last hour speaking with the media. He was insightful, entertaining and even humorous at times. He didn’t reveal any earth-shattering news, but there was one message that came through loud and clear and running back LeGarrette Blount better be listening.

At two different times, Schiano was asked about Blount. Both times, Schiano gave a similar answer. He first complimented Blount and, then, sent a strong message.

“I think LeGarrette has tons of ability,’’ Schiano said. “No one who touches the football will get touches if they don’t protect the football. That is one of our core covenants -- the ball. It’s so important they named the game after it. We make a big deal about it.’’

Schiano’s had time to review film of last year’s Bucs and it’s obvious one thing stood out to him about Tampa Bay’s top running back last season. Blount fumbled five times and lost three of them. Those fumbles came at critical times and it’s important to note that not a single one came during Tampa Bay’s 4-2 start. They all came during a 10-game losing streak to finish the season that cost Raheem Morris his job.

In fact, you can trace Tampa Bay’s collapse straight to Blount’s fumbles. The Bucs were on a five-game losing streak, but still playing most opponents closely. Then, they went to Tennessee on Nov. 27 and played well enough to win. They didn’t. They lost 23-17, mainly because Blount lost two fumbles.

After that, the Bucs weren’t even competitive.

Schiano likes to say everyone is getting a fresh start with him. That may be true, but the new coach obviously already has formed an opinion of Blount and he didn’t even talk about how Tampa Bay’s previous staff felt the need to use other running backs in passing situations.

I’m not saying Schiano’s going to go out and draft Alabama’s Trent Richardson with the No. 5 overall pick. But that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Schiano talked about how Ray Rice turned around his program at Rutgers. He also talked about how he likes to have a “bell-cow’’ back.

When asked if Richardson is a “bell-cow’’ back, Schiano said: “He could be. He’s done it in what is arguably the toughest league in college football.’’

The Bucs very well could draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne in the first round and that move would make lots of sense. Blount’s going to be on the roster, but there’s no doubt the Bucs will add a running back or two at some point in the draft or later in free agency.

Blount may get an opportunity to still be the main runner. But it’s apparent he’ll only stay in that role -- or get on the field -- if he shows he’s solved his fumbling problems.