TAMPA, Fla. — New Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette said Tuesday that after facing stacked boxes every Sunday with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s looking forward to not being the focal point of an offense, one that has six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady as its quarterback.
“For the first time in my life, I really have a quarterback, so that’s an eye-opener for me. Not a lot of pressure is going to come on me,” said Fournette, who played alongside Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew the past three seasons.
“Me coming to Tampa made perfect sense. I felt like they had all the keys I needed and vice versa. I can help the team out and also they can help me. I think it’s probably one of my first seasons running in probably a six-man box. … I made sure all of that was in consideration of me coming here.”
With a carousel of quarterbacks over the past three seasons, Jacksonville built its offense on the ground. From 2017 to 2019, Fournette had 800 touches — fifth most of any running back in the league — despite playing in only eight games in 2018.
Although Fournette saw teams stack the box against him less frequently and DJ Chark emerged as a Pro Bowl receiver, Fournette saw a loaded box on 47.8% of his snaps in 2017, 39.1% in 2018 and 34.7% in 2019 according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
The Bucs, with one of the NFL’s highest-powered passing attacks last season with a league-high 4,845 passing yards, but also an inconsistent ground game, saw a loaded box on just 21.5% of snaps last year — third lowest in the NFL.
Fournette not only won’t be the focal point of the Bucs’ offense, he won’t be the feature back, with coach Bruce Arians saying last week that Ronald Jones will remain the starter, with LeSean McCoy listed as second on the depth chart.
How does Fournette, the No. 4 draft pick in 2017, feel about walking into a situation where he’s not the guy?
“Everything’s gonna take care of itself,” Fournette said. “My job is to come out here and compete the best I can, get in the playbook, understand what they want from me, and the rest will take care of itself.
“We have guys — Shady, RoJo, other guys in there — I’m comfortable with my role right now. I don’t have to get beat up every week. We can split carries, which is gonna help a lot on our bodies towards the end of the year when we’re trying to make that run for whatever, the playoffs, or whatever the case may be. I’m fine with my role right now.”
When asked why things didn’t work out in Jacksonville, Fournette said, “I don’t know. Time changes everything. I’m moving past that. My time there was great. I made a bond with a lot of the coaches and some of the players — that’s my brothers for life, and some of those coaches I built a relationship with — things happen. I guess it wasn’t God’s plan — God had other things for me to do. … I’m moving on from it.”
As for his new team, Fournette will have to get up to speed quickly, but Arians said he will have a “solid role” Sunday at the New Orleans Saints, which will be the former LSU star’s first time playing in the Superdome.
While the Bucs’ offense — with Pro Bowlers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cam Brate — certainly had a big role in Fournette choosing Tampa Bay, former LSU teammate Devin White, the Bucs’ draft pick at No. 5 in 2019, might have played the biggest role in recruiting him.
Fournette used to make White work out with him at 6:30 in the morning when White was a freshman. Fournette said things have come “full circle” now.
“Devin FaceTimed me actually and was like, ‘Man, whatcha gonna do?'” Fournette said. “I’m like, ‘Man, there’s a lot of teams right now. It’s tough right now.’ I just felt my heart was needed in Tampa — to be around a lot of guys like that, and also to be around Devin.”
Fournette already got a head start on the playbook over the weekend by meeting with Brady.
“He’ll have a solid role in this plan. He’s a very bright guy. He picked it up pretty quick today. Obviously he can’t do everything, but he’ll have a solid role in the plan for the week,” Arians said.
Rather than pigeonholing him into a role, Arians believes it’s up to Fournette to create opportunities for himself, although helping in the passing game — not a strength for Jones — could be where he has a chance to shine.
“He’s a big, strong back that can really catch — he can do everything — he can protect, he’s a big third-down back and he’s been a solid guy in the league. It just gives us another weapon,” Arians said.
“The beauty of it is he doesn’t have to learn the playbook anymore — he just has to learn the game plan. It’s about one-third of the playbook. So if he studies the game plan this week, he should know it by Friday.”
Original article: https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/29838564/1st-really-qb