JACKSONVILLE – Leonard Fournette knows that with success comes reality.
"We kind of put a target on our back," he said.
While Fournette and the Jaguars' running offense certainly did that with 269 yards rushing in a victory in Denver this past Sunday, it's not as if they haven't dealt with such things in the past.
Fournette, who rushed for a career-high 225 yards in Denver, has faced run-centric defenses since being selected No. 4 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft – with eight-man fronts the norm against the Jaguars the past three seasons.
"It kind of works both ways," Fournette said as the Jaguars (2-2) prepared to play the Carolina Panthers (2-2) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sunday at 1 p.m. "If they stack the box, it gives our quarterback a chance. If they don't stack the box, it gives our run game a chance.
"That's something we always try to figure out and try to work on."
However the Panthers scheme the Jaguars' offense, they'll do so with one of the NFL's most-capable defenses – a unit that Head Coach Doug Marrone this week called perhaps the best the team has faced this season. Marrone lauded the Panthers' defensive discipline, and Fournette on Thursday echoed Marrone's praise.
"This is going to be one of the best defenses we're going to face this year as far as playing disciplined, playing their spots," Fournette said. "I think they'll do a great job of that."
Fournette on Sunday not only will face one of the NFL's best linebackers – All-Pro middle backer Luke Kuechly – he will be playing across from the NFL's leading rusher: Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who leads the NFL with 411 yards rushing in four games. Dalvin Cook of Minnesota has 410 yards with Fournette third with 404 yards.
Fournette said he and McCaffrey are friendly and speak occasionally, with the relationship dating to when Fournette was at Louisiana State and McCaffrey was at Stanford. Both Fournette and McCaffrey sat out their respective bowl games following the 2016 season before entering the '17 draft.
"I met him in the Heisman race my sophomore year," Fournette said. "When it came to the decision to not play [in the bowl game that season] … I was the first player to do it. He asked me on Instagram what's my number.
"He was like, 'How do you feel about the decision?' Did I regret it? I said, 'You have to stay focused, do what's best for you. It's your life, your future.' He made that choice, so it's exciting to see him and play against him."
Also around the Jaguars Thursday:
*Defensive coordinator Todd Wash joined many around the Jaguars in lauding McCaffrey, who leads the NFL in rushing and all-purpose yards. "If he's not the best, he's one of the best players we've played against all year," Wash said. "You see safeties try to cover him, so he is something that obviously we have to know where he's at, at all times on the field, and try to do some different things to try to take care of him, but he's playing like an MVP candidate right now." …
*Wash on Thursday also discussed the play through the first month of the season of defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen. Ngakoue, a fourth-year veteran who had 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons, missed the Jaguars' Week 2 loss to the Houston Texans with a hamstring and dealt with the aftereffects of that the following week. He does not have a sack this season. "He's been solid," Wash said. "We've tried to limit him during the week so when we get to Sunday, he's healthy. He's had some disruptions. He's been just a little bit late on some things. The biggest thing him and I talk about is you can't start pressing. Anytime a rusher really goes and says, 'I have to get one, I have to get one,' they usually aren't going to get one. So, we've talked about going out, executing your game plan, you've played very well up until this point and it'll be another opportunity on Sunday." Allen, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, has two sacks this season with both coming in a Week 3 victory over Tennessee. "You can feel him and Yan both off of the edge," Wash said. "That was the biggest thing we needed to address, and they did by drafting the young man, so I think he's played extremely well up until this point." …
*Cornerback Jalen Ramsey missed practice for a second consecutive day with the back injury that kept him out Sunday in Denver. Defensive end Lerentee McCray missed practice with an oblique injury after working limited Wednesday, and wide receiver Marqise Lee had a scheduled day off after practicing Wednesday. Jaguars players working limited Thursday: quarterback Gardner Minshew II (knee), safety Ronnie Harrison (knee), defensive end Josh Allen (knee), linebacker D.J. Alexander (hamstring), tight end Josh Oliver (hamstring), defensive end Calais Campbell (coach's decision) and defensive end Dawuane Smoot (oblique).