Bucs would miss Blount's force

TAMPA, Fla. -- If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can’t use injured running back LeGarrette Blount in Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, they’ll turn to Earnest Graham.

That’s not a bad option because Graham is a veteran who has played all sorts of roles in the offense since joining the team in 2004. Graham played tailback in the past, but more recently has been used as a fullback and third-down back.

“I know Earnest is going to step up and do great for us,’’ quarterback Josh Freeman said. “He has all kinds of history in the NFL being the featured back and has had some great seasons. I was watching tape in the offseason on Earnest tearing it up just a few years ago. Obviously, LeGarrette’s a big, physical presence that he brings, but at the same time we have to keep it moving.’’

That “big, physical presence’’ Freeman mentioned is significant. Blount, 6-foot-2 and 247 pounds, has it. Graham, 5-9 and 225, doesn’t. Graham’s known as a steady performer, but doesn’t stand out in terms of power or speed.

If Blount can’t go, the thing the Bucs will miss most is his ability to gain yards after first contact. Blount has 77 carries for 328 yards, but 128 of those yards have come after contact. In that category, Blount is No. 5 in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He’s averaging 2.3 yards per carry after contact, which ranks No. 15 in the league.