JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Sorry, Mom. No more gumbo.
Leonard Fournette arrived to training camp and quickly learned of a new rule governing his weight: the Jaguars could fine him $630 per pound over their target for him.
That target was 231 pounds. He was at 235.
“I heard about it when I got in,” Fournette says, “I gotta take this serious!”
He eased up on his mom’s gumbo – “Shout out to my mom,” he says – and the rookie is now well below his playing weight at LSU. The star from New Orleans’ seventh ward, who chose to wear No. 27 here because he always has to have a seven in his number, is nearly seven pounds under his target.
“I need all my money,” he says.
Fournette ran with the second team to start his first training camp on Thursday, but there are big plans for him here. Last month, when head coach Doug Marrone was asked how many times quarterback Blake Bortles would ideally throw in a game, he said “Zero.”
That was not really a joke. “For me, I want to run the ball every play,” Marrone told reporters. “I want to go back to the old way. I want to change the game.”
He has a few tools for that. Chris Ivory ran for more than 1,000 yards two years ago for the Jets, then had health issues here last season and only started one game. T.J. Yeldon is still young, entering year three in his career and already a decent pass-catcher. Then there is Fournette, who looked downright Adrian-Peterson-like when he was healthy in college. He rushed for 3,830 yards in only 32 games at LSU – including some punishing runs that would raise Marshawn Lynch’s eyebrows. And the fourth-overall pick says his receiving game is still undiscovered.
“We didn’t do a lot with LSU,” he says. “I’m very good at it.”
(He says he’s also good at blocking, but when asked if he enjoys that part of the game, he tilted his head and said, “Ehhhh.”)
Jaguars brass agrees, at least so far.
“We thought it was good,” GM Dave Caldwell says of Fournette’s pass-catching, “but it’s actually very good.” He noted that Fournette doesn’t break stride when he catches the ball in the open field, which is another hopeful sign. “His hands are unbelievable,” says Bortles.
The quarterback needs all the help he can get. Last season was such a disaster for Bortles that he went from secure franchise player to question mark. He leads the league in turnovers since he became a pro in 2014, and some of his 16 interceptions last season were jaw-dropping. It was bad enough to get coach Gus Bradley fired and now the Jags have turned to Marrone and legend Tom Coughlin (as executive VP of football operations). No one expects patience with Bortles to last if he doesn’t turn it around soon.
As if to accentuate the point, Coughlin visited with his family during a break in Thursday’s camp and one of his grandchildren was wearing a Fournette jersey. The Jags have only been a good team when they’ve had good backs – Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew – and Fournette needs to be next in line.
Asked what he anticipates in the new season, Caldwell said plainly: “I anticipate us running the ball.”
But then adds, “The plan was to run the ball last year, too.”
Big-back power running has worked in the past for Coughlin and for Marrone, and the hope is Fournette can help pace the offense so that wide receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee can continue to develop. If that takes the pressure of Bortles, all the better.
So it might be a while before Fournette can gorge on gumbo, but he can still expect to be fed.
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