FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When LeGarrette Blount first joined the New England Patriots, he immediately hooked up with Aqib Talib to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to play for Bill Belichick.
The two had been teammates on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who traded both to Belichick and the Patriots — Talib a steal last season for a fourth-rounder, Blount a steal last April for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick.
“He helped me out a lot,” said Blount of Talib. “He put me up to speed on how (Belichick) was and how things were going to be here. He told me to just keep working hard and my opportunities will come.”
Those opportunities have come. And based on his performances the last two games, more opportunities are likely to follow.
Blount led the undefeated Patriots in rushing each of the last two games, and has provided a 6-foot, 250-pound hammer for an offense in the fourth quarter in each win.
Against Tampa Bay, he rushed for 54 of his team-high 65 yards in the fourth. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he rushed for 48 of his team-high 64, including a 47-yard touchdown run that had NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth saying, “Sometimes you can’t believe a guy as big as LeGarrette Blount can run like that.”
The Patriots believe. That’s why he’s in there.
“The confidence in him has been (there) since Day One,” said Belichick. “There’s no issue with confidence in LeGarrette. None.”
Blount feels he’s earned Belichick’s trust, at least for now.
“I mean, if you get to play, he trusts you,” said Blount. “And if you’re not playing, it’s something you’re doing or they don’t trust you. I’m playing so I mean I feel he trusts me. I’m in the game in the fourth quarter, in the third quarter. I’m in the game in all the quarters.”
Asked if he relishes the role of the closer, Blount said it doesn’t matter when he plays as long as he plays.
“I want to go in there and carry it as much as possible, whether it’s in the first or second half,” he said. “But whatever they need me to do, I’ll do, no matter if it’s in the third quarter or the fourth quarter. If they need me to close the game, I’m going to do that. If that need me to start the game, I’ll do that.”
Blount arrived in New England with some baggage. He had gone undrafted out of Oregon and eventually landed in Tampa Bay. He led rookie running backs with 1,007 yards rushing in 2010. His rushing numbers dropped a bit in 2011 to 781 yards, but he caught 15 passes for 148 yards, a huge improvement over his rookie season.
Then last year, rookie Doug Martin took over as the No. 1 back. Blount’s numbers dropped to 41 carries for 151 yards and reports were that he was disgruntled and wanted out. The Patriots were more than willing to take a chance on him. And it’s paid off.
“I think he’s a good player and he’s played well,” said Belichick. “He’s played well for us, again, going all the way back to the preseason. He has good run skills, he has good vision, he’s a big strong guy. He’s got speed, catches the ball well. He’s been a very dependable player for us.”
He’s certainly helped open up the offense. Quarterback Tom Brady said it’s important that the Patriots run effectively if they want to pass effectively.
“Our running game has been really solid for us this year,” he said. “Very consistent, dependable. The backs have all been dependable. The offensive line has been a big strength of the team. We have to keep running it.
“That’s really a great strength of ours. The more we do that, the more that’s going to set up what we do: play-action. And you can get some really clean, easy throws if we continue to do it well.”
Blount is sharing the running back load with Stevan Ridley (who leads the team in rushing with 174 yards, followed by Blount with 155) and Brandon Bolden. When Shane Vereen returns from his broken wrist, he will add another dimension to the game.
And while every back would love to be the guy who carries 20 to 25 times a game, Blount understands the roles the backs have.
“I don’t have a problem with what I’m doing now,” he said. “It is what it is. However many times they tell me to carry the ball or however many times they want me to carry the ball, I’ll carry it.”
He simply loves the emphasis the Patriots are putting on the run.
“It’s part of being physical,” he said. “(Belichick) tells us that a lot, that we have to be physical. We have to be a hard-nosed, tough team. And running the football is part of that.”
Having a stable of three running backs keeps everyone fresh.
“Everyone comes in with fresh legs and can continue doing what the other guy came off from doing,” said Blount. “They’re going to continue to go out there and pound the football and whenever they get tired, you have another fresh back coming in.”
The Patriots are putting him back on kickoff returns as well. While he’s only had a chance to return four kicks in four games, averaging 21 yards a return, he’s enjoying it.
“I like being on the field at any time,” he said, “especially when there’s a chance to get my hands on the ball.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: