Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette taking big steps after…

5 min read
Jaguars' Leonard Fournette taking big steps after...

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Leonard Fournette’s career appeared to be at a crossroads when he left the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ facility in January.

After a disappointing season filled with injuries, a suspension and questions about the running back’s work ethic, maturity and professionalism, it was fair to wonder if Fournette would even make it to the end of his rookie contract after the 2020 season.

Nine months later, there’s a different feeling inside the organization about Fournette, the fourth overall pick in 2017. While nobody is ready to proclaim him the model for how a professional football player should act and behave, there’s a sense Fournette has taken huge steps forward and there’s cautious optimism that will continue.

“I don’t want to get into where [people are saying], ‘He was awful,’ but has he gotten better? I think absolutely,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “A lot of players have, though, from the first year or second year and having gone through injuries, which is always tough. So, you see that in a lot of the players that we have now, more so on the offensive side probably, because of more injures [that have] taken place there than the defensive side. So you see that, and it’s great growth.

“You go through a day and you think, ‘Hey, what can I do to be a better teammate? What can I do to be a better coach?’ Every day that you go through your job, or your situation, you want to be better. You want to be better for everyone. So, it’s not just Leonard — it’s everyone. But Leonard’s done a very good job and I’m very happy in the direction that he’s going.”

A quick recap of what happened in 2018:

  • Fournette missed seven full games and half of two others with hamstring and foot injuries. There was some frustration inside the building about the length of his absence with the hamstring injury. He also gained nearly 20 pounds during the season.

  • He was suspended for a game after coming off the bench and punching Buffalo defensive lineman Shaq Lawson. The team told him it was not going to guarantee the rest of his contract (which only becomes an issue if they cut him) because of that suspension, the second game missed for disciplinary reasons. He was inactive for one game as a rookie for leaving the team early during the bye week and missing the team photo.

  • Fournette was caught on video yelling at a fan in the stands during the team’s loss at Tennessee on Dec. 6. Fournette said several days later that a fan used a racial slur, a claim teammate T.J. Yeldon corroborated.

  • Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin released a statement criticizing Fournette (who was inactive because of a foot injury) and Yeldon — who now plays for the Buffalo Bills — for sitting alone on the bench and acting disinterested during the season finale.

  • Add in his April arrest for driving with a suspended license, for which he eventually paid a $303 fine, and it’s easy to see why the Jaguars had reservations about Fournette.

It’s why they signed running backs Alfred Blue and Benny Cunningham in free agency and drafted Ryquell Armstead in the fifth round. Nobody was really sure what to expect from Fournette in 2019: Would he be healthy? If so, could he handle the intense workload that new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo wanted to give Fournette? Would he be on time for every meeting? Would he keep his rehab appointments? Would he know the offense, stay in shape and act like a pro?


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