JACKSONVILLE – The thought is tantalizing …
What if Leonard Fournette is right? What if his plan works?
What if the offseason approach that has him looking lighter, leaner and quicker in Jaguars 2018 Training Camp really works and he improves on his rookie season?
That's the plan, and Fournette on Thursday was asked if he could really be faster than last season – a tall order considering he recorded the season's fastest speed during a run for any NFL running back.
"We'll have to see," he said with a smile shortly after a two-and-half-hour practice at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. "I can't really speak on that. We'll have to see."
That was an OK quote from Fournette's media availability Thursday, and it nicely speaks to what has been a major storyline of '18 camp: a very different looking running back, a player whose 223-pound 2018 training camp weight is around 15 pounds lighter than he played much of last season.
But that wasn't the money quote that defines Fournette's mindset as the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft prepares for his second season. Here's that quote:
"I want to be great."
That's his goal, his clear theme as his second NFL training camp begins – that this lighter, leaner version of himself can indeed turn him into his best NFL self and help him live up to his pre-draft status as a game-changing, franchise-carrying back.
Fournette was that at times last season. There were moments when healthy when his power and speed produced the moments that prompted his NFL peers to vote him No. 58 on the NFL Network's list of the NFL's Top 100 Players. And Fournette's high moments indeed were the highlight moments:
*A 90-yard run for a touchdown in Week 5 against Pittsburgh …
*A dive over the goal line for a touchdown from the five-yard line in the same game …
*A 75-yard touchdown run against the Los Angeles Rams the following week …
All showed the special talent that made him a Top 5 selection. The focus now? To be that player more often. To be that player every week.
If he can, that obviously means incredible things for the Jaguars' offense – and Fournette's offseason focus on this area has drawn praise from teammates. Quarterback Blake Bortles early in camp noted that it might be tempting for a player who had the success Fournette had as a rookie to relax during his first NFL offseason.
"That is the longest year of your life when you come from college and you train for the combine and then you go right into rookie minicamp and [training] camp," Bortles said. "That is a really long year. I think it is easy to kind of get lazy in the offseason. The evidence of him losing weight and coming back in really good shape, that is not what he did.
"I think that speaks volumes of how important it is to him and how much better he wants to be and higher he wants to take his game."
The most tantalizing thing about a possible better version of Fournette is that his rookie version already was very, very good.
Fournette in 2017 was in a very real sense the identity of the offense, even the team. Without his presence it's hard to imagine this team leading the NFL in rushing. And equally hard to imagine the offense finishing sixth in the NFL in total yards.
The AFC South Title? The run to the AFC Championship Game?
No, it's hard to imagine any of that without Fournette.
But to his credit, he wasn't thrilled with all his rookie performance. He rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, but Fournette said he remembered times he felt better. In high school. As a sophomore at Louisiana State when he was in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
His playing weight was 223 pounds in those days, and Fournette said he likes it there. It's where he feels best.
"I want to take it back there," Fournette said.
An obvious question: What will this do to his power? While lighter likely means quicker and faster, does it mean sacrificing power? Fournette said he has taken steps to ensure there is no sacrifice.
"At first it's hard because I haven't been used to that weight since high school, but now it's coming back," Fournette said. "I'm doing extra with Mylo (Jaguars strength and conditioning coordinator Tom Myslinski). I've brought it back to high school and I'm doing 50 pushups a night.
"I'm just trying to get as much strength and power as I can back."
What if it works? What if he's quicker and just as strong? What if he's really better?
What if he's great?
That thought is about as tantalizing as it gets.