Prominent PORTLAND OREGONIAN columnist John Canzano reports this week that LeGarrette Blount once punched former Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti in the face during a practice scuffle.
Two football seasons ago. Closed practice. Autzen Stadium. Running back LeGarrette Blount was carrying the football on a play that swung wide when he was met by two University of Oregon defenders.
Defensive back Jairus Byrd and linebacker Jerome Boyd grabbed Blount and shoved him toward the sideline. A scuffle broke out, facemasks were grabbed, bodies tangled and then Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti hurried toward the mess, trying to break up the players.
Blount threw a punch.
It missed Byrd and Boyd, but caught the side of Bellotti’s face — square.
Two Ducks teammates and a former assistant coach told me about that punch on Thursday.
Bellotti never publicly talked about it and did not return a call Thursday on the matter. Ducks teammates, aghast on the field as it happened, laughed about Bellotti’s shocked reaction with one another in the locker room after practice.
Blount, Byrd and Boyd were kicked off the field, but were not disciplined.
Former Oregon football players also indicated to Canzano that Blount’s bad act wasn’t limited to that one incident during Ducks practices.
Former Oregon teammates say Blount was a regular bad actor during practices. They’ll tell you that while most practice scuffles were followed by players hugging and understanding that contact is normal, Blount often carried the disagreements into the locker room.
Said one former teammate now in the NFL: “He had a fast trigger and a difficult time letting stuff go.”
After Blount’s latest meltdown during a Tennessee Titans practice this week, Titans coach Jeff Fisher played down the incident and said he had “great confidence” in Blount.
What Fisher didn’t say is that had Stafon Johnson stayed healthy, Blount probably wouldn’t have made the team out of training cap. But with Johnson now out with a dislocated ankle, Fisher doesn’t have many options at running back at the moment.
Even with those circumstances, Blount is far from a needle mover for the team which makes one wonder if Fisher’s “great confidence” in a bit player with such a sordid background is sorely misplaced.
UPDATE: Bellotti today acknowledged an altercation involving Blount but claimed that he was not struck by the player during the incident (audio):
LeGarrette Blount never hit me, not accidentally nor on purpose …. I do remember where I had to break up a scuffle during practice … LeGarrette was an offensive player and there were a couple defensive players and I stepped between them. … LeGarrette Blount never struck me.
The Oregonian responded to Bellotti’s denial thusly:
The Oregonian stands by its piece, in which three sources - two players and an assistant coach - told columnist John Canzano they witnessed the incident. They say a scuffle broke out after a play, and Bellotti was hit while trying to break up the players.
If the incident was so minor, as Bellotti claims, makes me wonder a little how Bellotti remembered it at all. If nothing significant happened.
UPDATE: Canzano replied to me today about Bellotti’s denial with the following email:
I stand by the reporting in the column. I now have four sources who were present who tell me the incident went beyond simple pushing and shoving and that Bellotti was accidentally struck in the fray as he stepped in to break it up. The larger, and more important, point of the column related to coaches who were eager to cover for LeGarrette all along. So I guess I’m not totally surprised that Bellotti wants to half-way characterize the incident.
I was also informed today by a source inside the Oregon football program today that after Bellotti was struck by Blount during the Canzano-cited closed practice incident, “he (Bellotti) had a welt on his face and everyone was talking about it afterwards.”
I can’t blame Bellotti for trying to protect Blount in this circumstance, but he certainly seems to be in the minority in his version of what happened during the “scuffle” involving Blount at a closed Oregon football practice two years ago.
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