Coming off an injury-plauged season, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette looks to come back into the fold to boost a team that saw a significant decrease in production in his absence in 2018.
“Refocused on football”, as Fournette says, entering his third year in the NFL, he looks to bring a spark back to the running game that made the Jaguars so successful in the 2017 season.
But, exactly how valuable is Fournette to the Jaguars offense?
Fournette is a cornerstone for the Jaguars organization as a whole. A man that had 268 carries and gained 1,040 yards in his rookie season, helped the Jaguars to be near top the NFL in rushing. A significant reason for their run late into the playoffs.
Fournette being off the field was detrimental to the offensive scheme due to the star running back having little to no replacement in his absence. The Jaguars spent the entire season plugging and playing running backs from all around the league into their system.
As the record shows, none were as productive as Fournette.
Fournette was sidelined due to a lingering ankle injury in 2017 dating back to his days at LSU where he missed significant amounts of time. This injury was a worry going into the 2017 draft where Jacksonville selected him 4th overall. The Jaguars took a chance to get a guy that — when healthy — is atop the league in rushing. Although the gamble somewhat paid off in 2017, the injuries caught back up last season and many began questioning if they made the right choice in drafting him just a year prior. Last season Fournette was once again sidelined, however this time for much longer — missing a total of eight games, including six of the first nine games of the season.
But, looking at how much he produces when he’s truly healthy and on the field for the Jaguars is too much to gloss over. Fournette brings a running style not many players of his stature contain. A brute force, downhill runner that can truck over the defenders or take the ball to the outside and burn them with his speed. Coming back will offer a reignited offensive attack for the Jaguars. Fournette brings a certain swagger that is uncontainable. If he’s in rhythm, the offense is in rhythm.
Nick Foles, the marquee free agent signing for the Jaguars in the offseason and new face of the franchise, is going to be reliant on Fournette being in that rhythm.
While in Philadelphia, Foles was most consistent when his running game was strong. Play action passes and run-pass option plays are hugely incorporated into not only an offense Foles plays in but in John Defilippo’s offensive scheme. Defilippo stated during OTAs that “(Fournette) needs to be a big part” of the offense. The recognition of his talent is not overlooked by the coaching staff and therefore he is going to be vital. Getting him the ball early and often will be a game plan going into every game.
Looking as if he will be the bell-cow running back, Fournette should be handed the ball upwards of 20-25 times per game. A similar situation to how the Cowboys incorporate Ezekiel Elliot into their offense. Giving the ball to the playmakers is a great strategy for any team.
This will force the defense to crowd the box and open up passing lanes all over the field for Defilippo and Foles to recognize and pick apart.
Fournette will also be catching a multitude of passes out of the backfield and maybe even seen on third downs now and then. While he is very underrated for his pass catching ability, Fournette was 7th among qualified running backs for yards per catch at 10 yards last season in his eight games according to Pro Football Focus.
The Jaguars coaches realize getting the ball in his hands as many ways as possible is important.
Running the ball down the opposing team’s throat, and then countering with play-action passes is going to be a lot of what Jaguars fans see in the 2019 season. Without a strong running game that Fournette brings to the table, that scheme simply will not work.
While he is focused on remaining healthy to aid his squad to as many victories as possible, he has also shifted his focus on the activities he takes part in off the field. As many people make mistakes, Fournette has had a history of off the field issues that the Jaguars have tended to stay patient with. Primarily because of his undeniable talent.
As his career continues, Fournette looks to get back on track and do big things in the Jaguars offense. Doing so in 2019 will mean nothing but success for the team. It’s a direct relationship. If Fournette plays well so does the team.
Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee officially taken off PUP list
The Jacksonville Jaguars have officially taken wide receiver Marqise Lee off of the physically unable to perform (PUP) list today. Head coach Doug Marrone announced the development at his pre-practice press conference today. Marrone says Lee will be practicing today.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) August 17, 2019
Lee has not practiced or played since his preseason knee injury almost a year ago today. With this progression, the Jaguars will go into the season — at least for now — with their top receivers active and relatively healthy. If Lee is able to make any sort of contribution during the start of the season it will be a major success for the Jaguars.
Currently, the Jaguars have relied on newcomer Chris Conley along with veterans Dede Westbrook, and D.J. Chark along with other newcomers to make up for Lee’s absence. It is not yet known how this will affect the Jaguars roster come the cut-down day.
The Jaguars have not announced a corresponding move as of right now. The roster stands at 91 until they do so.
REPORT: Jaguars sign RB Elijah Hood, release QB Tanner Lee
Earlier today the Jacksonville Jaguars announced the signing of running back Elijah Hood. As a corresponding move, the Jaguars have released quarterback Tanner Lee.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) August 17, 2019
Hood, 5’11” 230 pounds, was originally drafted in the seventh round by the Oakland Raiders. After bouncing around on the Raiders practice squad for the year, he was eventually waived following the 2017 season.
Hood most recently played the Carolina Panthers, however, his time with the Panthers was cut short in 2018 due to a torn ACL. He will get an opportunity to prove himself with the Jaguars and potentially live up to his collegiate career where he accumulated 2,580 yards and 29 touchdowns while at UNC.
With the injury to running back Alfred Blue (ankle) this past Thursday along with other running backs on the roster, the Jaguars needed to add depth at the position. Hood will get every opportunity to make the team, but his chances are rather slim.
Lee, a 2018 6th-round pick by the Jaguars was finally released as a corresponding move to signing Hood. Releasing Lee will not come to much of a shock for Jaguars fans. Lee has struggled throughout the offseason and in the preseason during both of his seasons with the Jaguars. This leaves backup quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Alex McGough to battle it out in the Jaguars last two preseason games — although it looks like Minshew has the upper hand as of right now.
Jaguars defensive end Datone Jones has inside track on backup job
Earlier this offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to sign seven-year veteran Datone Jones as a means to create more competition and depth behind defensive end Calais Campbell. At the time, this was seen as more of a roster-filler type move, essentially to make sure the Jaguars have enough bodies during training camp. However, the situation has completely changed due to the way Jones has played during the offseason and into training camp.
Jones, 6’4″ 285 pounds, was originally drafted 26th overall in the 2013 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. Coming out of UCLA he was expected to make a major impact along the defensive line after accumulating a respectable 62 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks during his senior season. Since being drafted, Jones has bounced around the NFL playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and, most recently, the Dallas Cowboys.
Jones was not able to make as much of an impact on the Packers’ 3-4 defensive front after bouncing around from the defensive line to — surprisingly — linebacker.
For a short time, Jones signed with the Minnesota Vikings shortly after his contract with the Packers ended and expressed the concern of a position switch during an interview with the Vikings update stating, “They didn’t tell me. I found out on NFL Network that they had moved me to outside linebacker, I kind of knew that I would have to make the adjustment or I wasn’t going to be there anymore. I wanted to come into a place where I felt most natural, where I could really showcase my ability, what I could really do.”
Having to make such a drastic change in his career path after being mildly successful — 73 tackles and nine sacks with the Packers — at another position impacted Jones. While Jones did accumulate the most pressures for the Packers during the 2016 season while playing outside linebacker, it still was not the appropriate position for him to play given his natural ability.
Now with the Jaguars, Jones is back along the defensive line and is thriving. With the backup strong-side defensive end position for the Jaguars being completely wide open, Jones has taken the opportunity afforded to him and could be apart of the first group of players coming onto the field for the normal starters.
The Jaguars have tried for a couple of years now to find a good backup behind Campbell. They drafted defensive tackle/end Taven Bryan in the first round just a year ago, however, he has switched to more of a fulltime role on the interior of the defense. Mostly a disappointment his first two seasons, defensive end Dawuane Smoot has also taken a backseat with the arrival of Jones, giving Jones the inside track to win the primary backup job.
Jones has taken that opportunity and has thrived. Able to come off the ball with speed and power, he has the ability to adequately stop the run along with getting to the quarterback. During the game on Thursday, Jones completely took over the Eagles offensive line. One play in particular from Thursday’s game stands out.
Jones lines up on the defensive edge and is unblocked, getting to the quarterback and knocking him (Cody Kessler) out of the game. These are the type of plays which illustrate why he has earned a spot on the Jaguars 53-man roster.
— Datone Jones AKA TONE_LOCC (@IAM_Dat_One) August 16, 2019
A rotation from normal starters Yannick Ngakoue, Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones, and Campbell to Josh Allen, Bryan, Eli Ankou, and Jones illustrates just how deep the Jaguars are along the defensive line.
This past week head coach Jaguars Doug Marrone was asked about the importance of the defensive end spot behind Campbell.
“I feel good about where we are with our D-Line, I do. In other words, I feel like we have good starters, and I feel like we have good depth. I think we have a lot of players there, guys that will probably be, if you look at the roster, I think that can potentially be the toughest. Who is nine, who is 10 if we keep 10, wherever that goes,” Marrone stated.
“Yan obviously looks great out there, but then all of a sudden [Dontavius] Russell, [Michael] Hughes, Datone Jones, I mean you have guys now, big V [Kalani Vakameilalo] is a big body in there. We have guys now that are in there that are pretty good that it’s going to be a tough call.”
A “tough call” that might have gotten tougher — or easier depending on how you look at it — with the performance Jones put on Thursday and throughout the offseason. Against the Eagles, Jones was credited with three tackles and a quarterback hit, however, it was his persistent pressure and pocket collapsing plays that set him apart from everyone else.
Shortly after the game, reporters spoke to Jones about his strong play against the Eagles. “I just wanted to go out there and execute and compete. I felt like I started off really slow the first preseason game and I felt like I owed it to my teammates to go out there today, execute and put my abilities on film,” Jones said.
“[I wanted to] let guys like Calais [Campbell], Marcell [Dareus] and Yannick [Ngakoue] know that I’m here to compete and I want to be in the lineup with those guys. I want to be here in Sacksonville, sacking quarterbacks. Preseason is all about coming out here and displaying and competing and just having fun with your brothers. Executing, you know.”
It is clear playing behind the Jaguars starting defensive line, and seeing the culture within that group has lit a fire under Jones for the better. If he can provide the same production he has done in the past, the Jaguars may have one of the deepest defensive line groups in the entire league.
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