Feature back. Lead back. Bell-cow back. Between-the-tackles back. Early-down back. Short-yardage back.
When it comes to LeGarrette Blount, the term used doesn’t truly matter.
“He’s just so deceptive with his quickness and he's a big back, but he’s got great agility,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “He makes yards after contact and gets guys in space. He does a great job attacking the creases there.”
Blount’s skillset can be difficult to classify. It’s 250 pounds of downhill power combined with cutback finesse, and, at times, a split-second of indecisiveness. It’s leaning one way combined with squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage. It’s high-jumping gallops combined with shoulder-lowering booms.
It’s multidimensional traits combined with a mostly one-dimensional role.
But what it is has been enough for the New England Patriots’ offense to keep defensive fronts honest, whether it be in I-formation or shotgun spread. It’s been enough to wear them out. And on a one-year, $1 million deal with a $100,000 signing bonus, that is all the organization could ask for and then some from a re-signee who saw his 2015 season end in December on injured reserve.
That sentiment was furthered Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers – a team Blount spent 11 games with in 2014 – as he powered through for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in what was a 27-16 win at Heinz Field.
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t need to be.
The grind-it-out win over Pittsburgh marked Blount’s third 100-yard game of the regular season, which now sets him just one away from tying the career-high four 100-yard games he notched as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie free agent in 2010.
By crossing through the end zone twice in the process, the product of East Mississippi and Oregon also set a new career-best with eight rushing touchdowns.
“Blount ran hard,” head coach Bill Belichick said in his postgame press conference. “He had good ball security and good pad level. He made some tough yards. He made some big-play, explosive runs for 12 to 15 yards. He had one long one for 25 yards. He gave us some explosive plays. We needed that particularly when they cut it to a four-point game. He gave us a couple big runs there to settle things down where it just wasn't a pass-rush game for them all day.”
Blount’s number has been called for no less than 13 carries in a contest this campaign, and on four occasions, it’s been called for well over 20.
No. 29 been held to under 50 yards on the ground just once over that high volume, when he managed 37 on 18 attempts versus the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 9.
Only against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 2, meanwhile, has he gone without a TD.
Week 1: 22 carries, 70 yards, one touchdown
Week 2: 29 carries, 123 yards, one touchdown
Week 3: 24 carries, 105 yards, two touchdowns
Week 4: 13 carries, 53 yards, zero touchdowns
Week 5: 18 carries, 37 yards, one touchdown
Week 6: 13 carries, 50 yards, one touchdown
Week 7: 24 carries, 127 yards, two touchdowns
Blount has handled 144 carries through New England’s 6-1 start. With them, he’s amassed 566 rushing yards and those aforementioned eight scores.
He is second among NFL backs in carries. He is fifth in rushing yards. He is tied with the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson and the San Diego Chargers’ Melvin Gordon for first in rushing touchdowns.
It’s hard to have foreseen that type of production looming. Let alone from a veteran, who, coming off a season-ending hip injury, was still a free agent a month into the 2016 league year.
But as it stands, here Blount is, on pace for 272 carries, 1,294 yards and 18 touchdowns.
That carrying clip would rank 11th in the Patriots’ single-season record books. That yardage clip would rank fourth. And that scoring clip would surpass Hall of Famer Curtis Martin’s 14 – accomplished in both 1995 and 1996 – for most in franchise history.
The middle-of-the-road 4.0 yards per rush can be taken with a grain of salt. The reality is that, now seven games into 2016, Blount is playing the most prolific football of his seven-year NFL career.
2010: 201 carries, 1,007 yards, six touchdowns
2011: 184 carries, 784 yards, five touchdowns
2012: 41 carries, 151 yards, two touchdowns
2013: 153 carries, 772 yards, seven touchdowns
2014: 125 carries, 547 yards, five touchdowns
2015: 165 carries, 703 yards, six touchdowns
2016: 143 carries, 566 yards, eight touchdowns
The 29-year-old is the only runner of his kind on Patriots’ active roster, and even with James White’s role as a pass-catcher and Dion Lewis’ impending return from physically unable to perform, his value to the offense does not change.
At the center of New England’s backfield committee is earth. And with Blount, what makes his game different from that wind and fire makes him vital.
The results illustrate that.