JACKSONVILLE – The confidence in Leonard Fournette is there.
And although Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said on Thursday that confidence must continue to be earned, it is nonetheless real.
Fournette, the No. 4 overall selection by the Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft who struggled on and off-the-field in his second season this past season, was as expected a topic Thursday when Coughlin spoke to the media.
“I have full confidence in him,” Coughlin said Thursday afternoon after the team early that morning signed former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles as an unrestricted free agent.
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, who has expressed confidence in Fournette throughout the offseason, reiterated that Thursday.
“He’s still the workhorse; he’s still the guy we’re going to give the ball to,” Marrone said of Fournette, who is working in Wyoming with his collegiate strength coach – former Louisiana State strength coach Ben Iannacchione, now at the University of Wyoming – in preparation for next season. “He’s working hard to come back here ready and be able to prove he can stay healthy through a whole season and play well for us and help this team win.
“Those are the conversations. He’s working hard on that now.”
Coughlin, who hadn’t spoken to the media since the end of last season, elaborated on his thoughts on Fournette. He spoke of Fournette needing to return to the Jaguars this offseason and next season with the proper mindset and with the attitude he showed during a meeting with Jaguars decision-makers shortly after the 2018 season.
“He does have some things he’s got to prove when he comes back about his preparation,” Coughlin said.
Fournette, after rushing for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie, missed eight games this past season. He missed six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury, then was suspended for a game following his actions during an on-field fight against the Buffalo Bills.
Fournette also missed the regular-season finale with an injury, then along with running back T.J. Yeldon acted disinterested and removed from teammates throughout a loss at Houston.
The behavior prompted the following postgame release from Coughlin: “I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette. They were disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”
Coughlin and Fournette met shortly thereafter.
“He’s a young, young player who loves football,” Coughlin said. “He had an outstanding year [as a rookie]; he had a very disappointing year [last season]. We want him to be a great player and I think he’s in the same mindset.”
Fournette finished with 439 yards rushing and five touchdowns this past season, with the Jaguars’ run-centric offense – an offense built the previous season around Fournette’s power-running ability – slipping from No. 1 in the NFL in rushing as a team in 2017 to 19th this past season. The offense overall slipped from No. 5 to No. 27, and the record slipped from 10-6 to 5-11.
Coughlin was asked if the team needed to approach Fournette with “skepticism” next season and prepare for a scenario in which he struggled again.
“You have to people who can back up and perform in similar capacities if in fact something does happen, but that is true of every position,” Coughlin said. “You have to have swing tackles, and you have to have people who can play the game if those who are penciled in as first-line players aren’t able to go.”