While Tom Coughlin was critical of many things concerning the Jacksonville Jaguars, running back Leonard Fournette wasn’t one of them.
This time last year Tom Coughlin wasn’t pleased with the performance of Leonard Fournette on or off the field. The Jacksonville Jaguars running back had been injured and out of shape. He was distance and looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but in Jacksonville.
The team struggled mightily with the running game in 2018, which was partially related to not having Fournette, the fourth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, on the field.
What a difference a year makes.
When Coughlin spoke at his impromptu press conference on Wednesday and asked about Fournette’s progress as a player and member of the Jaguars, Coughlin, the man who publicly scolded him at the end of last season, praised him for his efforts this season on and off the field.
“Leonard has made great progress along those lines,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin did say head coach Doug Marrone has done a good job with the players on team building trust.
"“And Leonard, in return, has been one who has communicated, and [Running Backs Coach] Terry Robiskie and Leonard, and they have worked together to be a really solid part of our team,” Coughlin added.”"
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With the emergence of DJ Chark, Fournette’s roommate his final season at LSU, the Jaguars have at least two weapons on offense to build around. Coughlin was critical of the team needing to play better, to avoid penalties and to make more strides on defense, especially against the run.
With Fournette, it appears the player has taken the steps to become a leader on this roster and it shows each week. Coughlin does believe, as he said, this is a team that can reach the same altitude as the 2017 roster based on what he has observed this season.
"“Just their attitude, the way they practice. They come back out on the practice field and they go to work again. You have to keep chipping away, there’s no other way around it, it’s hard work,” he said. “And when you watch them practice, and when you see them come out on the field you know — you look at [Nick] Foles, you know what he wants to do. He wants to win, for sure. And everybody else out there, too, I’ve liked that part of this team.”"
Fournette has 951 yards rushing this season and should top 1,000 yards this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also has 56 pass catches, which shows his versatility in the passing game. While his 2018 campaign was one everyone in the organization wants to forget, this year’s version of him is the one everyone envisioned when he was drafted.
And for Fournette, who struggled as a player and person with football last season, it’s a chance to continue to progress as a star here in Jacksonville.
Fournette is on pace to rush for almost 1,400 yards and catch 80 passes. He has been used more in the offense this season than in his past two years in the NFL. That is by design. The Jaguars do not have a deep running back room. There are five games left in the season to make more of an impact for the team.
Hopefully, those games result in victories. While there have been other areas of the team for Coughlin and others to be critical of, the one thing they cannot question is how much Fournette has made a difference in the team’s offense in 2019.