Leonard Fournette shouldering massive expectations in Year 2

Leonard Fournette ran for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. Barring injury, those numbers could increase significantly this fall. AP Photo/Fred Vuich

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Leonard Fournette showed up for the Jacksonville Jaguars' mandatory minicamp 10 pounds lighter, mentally refreshed and ready for a big season.

That's good, because a large part of the Jaguars' success in 2018 depends on it.

Aside from quarterback Blake Bortles, there is no other Jaguars player under more pressure in 2018 than Fournette. The offense is built around his physical running style and smash-mouth mentality, and he has to be better than he was as a rookie if the Jaguars are going to have a chance to improve upon their 2017 AFC Championship Game appearance and make it to the franchise's first Super Bowl.

"Consistency's the biggest thing," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "He really ran hard, did a really good job, but I think, to me, he almost took sometimes too many hits. I think that understanding the system and understanding how we're trying to attack, the more that he can understand that, the more he's going to be able to protect himself and get more out of each run play."

Fournette certainly wasn't bad in 2017. He did run for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 36 passes for 302 yards and another touchdown during the regular season, but he averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. He ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns in three playoff games, but his per-carry average was even lower than the regular season (3.5).

Fournette also had only four runs of 20 or more yards (two were TD runs of 90 and 75 yards, respectively) in the regular season. However, a big reason for that and his lower per-carry average is the Jaguars had more runs against defensive fronts with eight-plus men in the box than any other team (145 -- 27 more than Carolina).

Fournette also missed three games: two because of ankle and quad injuries and one for disciplinary reasons.

The ankle and quad injuries lingered throughout the season's second half and into the playoffs, and he spent his offseason getting healthy and working out in New Orleans (he did attend one voluntary organized team activity). He returned to Jacksonville at 224 pounds, which was significantly lighter than what he played at as a rookie (235), and said he feels more explosive and elusive.

"That's what I played in college -- 223, 224 -- and I play my best at that weight," Fournette said. "Why not? I don't want to be average. I want to be above average, be the greatest one to play this game.

"I feel lighter, quicker, have a lot more burst."

That doesn't mean Fournette is now going to start bouncing outside and try to outrun defenders down the sideline. He's going to be the same guy who waved on Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell to come try and tackle him during the Jaguars' game at Heinz Field in October.

That's exactly what Hackett wants, because Fournette is the tone-setter.

"That's how our offense's personality is," Hackett said. "We want that. We want everybody to feel that way. It's a contact sport and you want guys that want contact and get excited for it, and that's kind of how you can wear a defense down and really bring it to them because defenses are always trying to hit you, so it's about being able to be the enforcer.

"... I don't want him to change. I want him to be him. I want him to do his style. I never want him to change. I just want him to be able to understand the system more so he can run even smarter but still never lose that aggressiveness. That's what makes Leonard Leonard. That's what gets everybody excited, makes me excited [and] makes me want to call another run."

Hackett is no doubt going to call a lot of runs. The Jaguars led the NFL with 527 rushes in 2017, and the team signed All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell in free agency to line up alongside tackle Cam Robinson and center Brandon Linder, so it's safe to speculate the Jaguars could lead the league again in 2018.

That surely means more Fournette, especially after the team cut Chris Ivory and did not draft or sign another running back in free agency.

"I don't worry about things like that," Fournette said. "As long as we win. At the end of the day, it's not about me, not about yards per carry, none of that. It's about the wins and losses.

"Nothing, really. Just winning the Super Bowl. We have the team, the coaches. We have the leadership. We have everything we want in the football team. We just have to put the pieces together."

A lot of that depends on Fournette.