He may not be as scrutinized as his teammate Blake Bortles but make no mistake – running back Leonard Fournette will have plenty of eyes on him once the Jaguars return for training camp at the end of July.
It’s only natural that the second 1,000-yard rookie rusher in team history and lead back on a franchise that will preach running the football will have many fans and media wondering what is next for the former first-round draft pick and LSU star. Fournette showed flashes of what he can do with this offense but also showed he still has plenty to prove if he is going to be the elite runner the Jaguars hope for him to be.
Fournette came to minicamp after missing the last nine OTAs to deal with personal business in Louisiana. He looked leaner and in better shape than he was this time last year. It’s a comfort level for Fournette that brought a smile to his face when discussing his goal of getting the Super Bowl with this organization.
First, he and his teammates must fight through training camp, the preseason and 16 games against tougher opponents in 2018. For Fournette, there are other barriers he must breakthrough as well if he is to be known as the bell cow he was drafted to be.
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He missed two games due to injury and one due to violating team rules. His performance on the field, although better than any running back since Maurice Jones-Drew’s 1,606 yards in 2011, is deceiving a bit. He ran for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 36 passes for 302 yards and another touchdown during the regular season, but he averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.
In the team’s three playoff games, he ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns but his per-carry average was even lower than the regular season (3.5). Those numbers must get better if he is to take his game to another level. Had Fournette played all 16 games last season, he would have topped 1,200 yards. With improved line play and a healthy 2018, there is no reason to think he could not approach that total or even more.
I am on record with several local media members here in Jacksonville that I expect Fournette to run for 1,300 yards and score 12 touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett knows the offense will start with Fournette and his bruising style – something he encourages because it is how his second-year player is on the field. There is no plan to change what worked last year, only to enhance opportunities to make it better.
"“He really ran hard, did a really good job, but I think, to me, he almost took sometimes too many hits,” Hackett explained to the media during minicamp. “I think that understanding the system and understanding how we’re trying to attack, the more that he can understand that, the more he’s going to be able to protect himself and get more out of each run play.”"
The slighter Fournette – down to 224 pounds from the 232 pounds last season – could mean more speed, more agility, and more opportunity. He said he was looking forward to the upcoming season, to continue to improve his play and help the Jaguars reach their final destination.
"“I want to be above average, be the greatest one to play this game,” he said."