JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The 2019 season is a pivotal one for Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. He’s coming off a disappointing season in which he played in only half the games, was suspended, admitted he was out of shape and was criticized for his behavior in the season finale.
So to put that all behind him and get started on his offseason program, Fournette went to Wyoming.
That’s certainly not as glamorous as typical NFL workout locales such as Los Angeles or Arizona, but Fournette obviously believed it was the best place for him to train -- and once he got over the initial surprise, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone understood.
"When he told me about Wyoming, I was like, 'Wyoming?'" Marrone said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. "He might be the first player ever -- nothing against Wyoming -- but the first player ever ... I’m like, 'Wyoming? I mean, why are you going to Wyoming?'
"But I think hopefully the only thing I can look at is it's just a sole focus for himself to go out there and train and really get away."
There would certainly seem to be fewer distractions in Laramie than his home territory in Louisiana, but there is also a connection that explains why Fournette chose to train at the University of Wyoming instead of his alma mater, LSU. Ben Iannacchione was hired as Wyoming's new director of sports performance after spending six of the past seven seasons working in the strength and conditioning program at LSU.
Fournette starred at LSU from 2014-16 and worked with Iannacchione in Baton Rouge, and he apparently trusts Iannacchione enough to help him prepare for what will be a make-or-break season in Jacksonville.
Fournette signed a four-year deal when the Jaguars drafted him fourth overall in 2017 and he had a good rookie season: 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns rushing to help the Jaguars win the AFC South and reach the AFC Championship Game.
The 2018 season, however, was a huge letdown. Fournette missed seven games because of injuries, was suspended for another after getting in a fight during a game, got into an exchange with a fan in Tennessee (he said the fan used a racial slur) and let himself get out of shape. The season ended on a sour note when executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin publicly criticized Fournette (who was inactive because of a foot injury) and T.J. Yeldon for sitting alone on the bench and acting disinterested during the season finale. Coughlin said they were “disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”
The Jaguars voided the guarantees remaining in Fournette’s contract as punishment for the suspension, though Fournette is appealing the decision with the NFL and NFLPA.
Fournette's stats for 2018: 439 yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Fournette has to prove in 2019 that he can be the workhorse back the Jaguars need him to be. He has to average more than 4.0 yards per carry and he has to stay healthy. Fournette has to rush for more than 1,000 yards or another run at the playoffs for the Jaguars is unlikely, especially if the team opts to draft and start a rookie quarterback.
The first step is Fournette showing up in April for the start of the offseason conditioning program in great shape. Participating in organized team activities -- which are voluntary -- would help, too. Picking up the offense quickly, improving his study habits, keeping up with his conditioning throughout the season and being accountable would prove he has truly learned and moved on from last season.
Looming after the 2019 season is his fifth-year option, and there’s no way the team would pick it up if 2019 is anywhere close to 2018. One bad year -- with all the accompanying off-field issues -- can be explained away. Two bad years, however, means the Jaguars would remove Fournette from their long-term plans.
Fournette has started his rebound season the right way, however, and the Jaguars believe that’s a good sign -- even if it’s taking place 1,800 miles away.