OWINGS MILLS — LeGarrette Blount isn’t known for his subtlety, approaching the game of football with all of the grace of a sledgehammer.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ powerful rookie running back is, in a word, blunt.
Infamous for slugging Boise State defensive end Byron Hunt with a sucker punch to the jaw after being taunted last year, the former University of Oregon star apologized for his actions, served his suspension and wound up going undrafted.
Now, the Tennessee Titans are regretting that they ever cut Blount.
The 6-foot, 247-pounder has emerged as the leading rookie rusher for yards per game and touchdowns, ranking second in yards per carry.
“I like him, I really do like him,” Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’s got a little bit of thug in him, too, a little street. I like feisty backs like that.
“He’s having a good year. He jumped over a guy, running the ball downhill. I like his style of play. It’s going to be fun to play against that kind of back.”
The Ravens’ defense is traditionally accustomed to being stout against any kind of back, even bruising runners, but that hasn’t held true in recent years, or weeks.
Whether it’s the New York Giants’ Brandon Jacobs a few seasons ago or, most recently, the Cleveland Browns’ Peyton Hillis bulldozing the Ravens, the defense has become increasingly vulnerable against bigger runners.
Hillis rushed for 144 yards against the Ravens earlier this season, and Blount reminds them of the Browns’ imposing featured back.
“He’s a real big, downhill running guy, very similar,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh while preparing for Sunday’s home game against the Buccaneers. “It will be a challenge for us. He’s 250 pounds.
"He’s a north-south runner. He’s a physical kind of guy. He breaks a lot of tackles and all that stuff.”
Blount has rushed for 443 yards, averaging 63 yards per contest. He has scored four touchdowns and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
He has eclipsed Cadillac Williams as the starting running back, and he’s 40 yards shy of surpassing Reggie Cobb for the fifth-most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history.
“LeGarrette is a big part of what we’ve been doing,” Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman said. “He brings an added dimension of physicality to our running game.
“He breaks a lot of tackles and makes a lot of people miss. He’s been playing really solid football. There’s a lot of passion in the guy.”
Blount’s running style isn’t fancy.
He simply drives ahead and plows into the line.
“He’s a big, physical, one-cut guy,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He’s going to make his move, and then he’s coming downhill. So, I think you’ve got to get to him before he makes that cut.
“You’ve got to disrupt him in the backfield and can’t let him build his momentum because you get him around guys that are smaller than him, and he’s going to hurt them.”
One thing to watch out for with Blount: He likes to practice the high hurdles against defensive players.
“He likes to jump people and stuff,” Johnson said. “So, you can’t really prepare for that. If he jumps you, then just try to go high, I guess.”
The Ravens are ranked ninth against the run, allowing 101.8 yards per game. However, they gave up 120 yards last week to Carolina Panthers running back Mike Goodson.
Now, the Ravens have to contend with Blount and Williams who has gained 333 yards and scored twice.
“It’s definitely a challenge for us,” Suggs said. “These guys are better than the guy we played last week. We pretty much got to bring our lunch pail.
“Last week’s guy was more of a speedster. These guys are more downhill. We definitely get pissed off with people running on us. We’ve got to address it.”
Blount rushed for 72 yards on 11 carries against the St. Louis Rams, 120 yards and two touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals, 91 yards and a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers and 82 yards in last week’s 21-0 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
“He kind of reminds me of me, back when I used to tote that thing back at Hamilton High,” said Suggs, a former star high school tailback. “This guy is definitely a big, stout back.”
The Ravens are getting beyond tired of being victimized by big running backs. They’re hoping to draw a line in the ground Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
They’re determined for their own pride’s sake, not for a growingly loud chorus of criticism.
“I’m not really worried about it,” Johnson said. “Obviously, you’d like to hear people talk good about you. We’ve got a lot of pride about our defense. It’s been good for a long time. When people start to bash us and run us down, I take it to heart a little bit.
“We’ve got a saying: ‘If you don’t have a solution, shut up.’ If you’re not trying to help us get better, I’ve got nothing for you. We’re trying. We want to be as dominant as we’ve ever been. We’ve got a lot of pride in this group and we want to be No. 1 in everything.”