Throughout the Jaguars’ organized team activities and minicamp, rookie Leonard Fournette showed flashes to make quick cuts and outrun players in the secondary after catching passes out of the backfield.
However, it wasn’t enough to change Coach Doug Marrone’s mind yet. He still has Fournette as his No. 2 tailback behind veteran Chris Ivory, keeping his word that the top-rated back, who rushed for 3,830 yards and scored 40 touchdowns in three seasons at LSU, must work his way up the depth chart even on a football team that won only three games in 2016.
“People got to earn things,’’ Marrone said. “We really haven’t done anything. We will see how it goes. We haven’t practiced.’’
Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the April NFL Draft, could not put his exceptional combination of power and speed on full display during the team’s 13 offseason practices because no contact drills were allowed.
But Fournette says he can’t wait for the pads to finally come in five weeks with the start of the training camp.
“The first day in pads, it’s going to be crazy,’’ Fournette said. “Instead of me running towards Calais (Campbell) and stopping, I have to really block him now. That’s one of the things that’s in the back of my head. It should be fun going out there, getting better, competing with each other, getting each other better. I love this team.”
Fournette said he doesn’t have a problem getting tough love from Marrone or having to compete to earn his spot. He said he went through a similar situation at LSU when he first arrived on campus as one of the top recruits in the country.
“My freshman year in college, I wasn’t with the ones yet,’’ Fournette said. “ Like I said, it’s something you have to work on. It’s something you have to get better of doing, of competing. That’s everybody’s job out here. Nobody is promised anything so you have to compete until your number is called.”
Regardless, Fournette is expected to be a big part of the team’s offense. The Jaguars already have a significant number of plays designed specifically for Fournette. They are expecting him to be a punishing runner, capable of breaking long runs and providing short-yardage gains. Jacksonville is expected to more run oriented than last season to take the pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw 16 interceptions and remains in a work in progress with his throwing mechanics.
Last season, the Jaguars’ eight rushing touchdowns were tied with Houston and Tampa Bay for the second fewest in the league. They drafted Fournette to score more.
Although most of his reps have come with the backups, Jaguars running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley said he has liked everything about Fournette so far.
“Definitely, a big guy, explosive, run, move, good hands and all the athletic ability that you need for that position and I like him a lot,’’ said Wheatley, a former star tailback at Michigan who played 10 seasons in the NFL. “The transition for him has been relatively smooth, he’s been through it his whole football career from playing in middle school. high school to college to now, For him, it’s just the next step. The only difference now is that the stakes are a little higher like our team and help them get to where we want to get to eventually and that playoffs and hopefully Super Bowl.
“It’s a competition, that’s what this whole thing is about. He accepts the competition and the guys with him accept the competition and they compete. That’s what I really like about this group of guys. They really do compete.”
With a desire to live up to enormous expectations, Fournette said he intends to remain in Jacksonville for a significant amount of the remaining five weeks before camp starts. He said he’s going to continue lifting weights, work on conditioning and learn the playbook.
“I know how important this month is going to be off for us to just stay in shape, the mental things, learning the play book more and more until I have it like it’s the back of my hand,’’ Fournette said.
Smoot signs:Defensive end Dawuane Smoot became the seventh and final member of the team’s 2017 draft class to sign his rookie contract, the franchise announced. Smoot, who played at Illinois, was a third-round selection in the April 27-29 NFL Draft. Smooth joins Fournette, second-round offensive tackle Cam Robinson, fourth-round wide receiver Dede Westbrook, fifth-round linebacker Blair Brown and seventh-round selections cornerback Jalen Myrick and fullback Marquez Williams as 2017 draftees to sign their rookie contracts.
“It was a great feeling; just finally making it official and finally becoming a Jaguar feels great,” Smoot said. “It was surreal before when I was practicing with the guys in OTAs and minicamp, but when you actually put pen to paper and you’re actually signing it really becomes real. It’s an honor to finally be an official Jaguar.”