JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the Jaguars used the fourth pick in the draft on running back Leonard Fournette, it sent a clear signal of the team's new intentions. Tom Coughlin made the statement that the Jaguars were going to become a tough team again, a trait he saw lacking.
When the Jaguars open the season Sunday in Houston, Fournette will have his first chance to show that toughness. While head coach Doug Marrone joked that he would like to run the ball every time, the Jaguars aren't likely to shelve the passing game all together. Still, Fournette's influence on the Jaguars offense should be obvious in the opener.
"We're balancing the offense. We have good wide receivers," Fournette said. "The O-line and the coaches are doing a great job. I think we'll do a great job against them."
Fournette played only one game in the preseason, the opener against the Patriots. While he played against mostly second-team players, Fournette looked the part. He hasn't acted like a rookie since being drafted. He carries himself like a veteran and the Jaguars expect him to run like a veteran on Sunday.
"He's a great presence, just both from the guy that he is and his running style, he runs very aggressively," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "He's a downhill runner, so you always like that attitude."
There is something about great running backs that seems to show up earlier than rookies at other positions. Perhaps it is the instinctual nature of the position. The job is to run to daylight, after all. Fournette will not be asked to carry the entire load, but with T.J. Yeldon limited with a hamstring injury this week, Fournette, Chris Ivory and Corey Grant are the Jaguars only healthy options at running back and Fournette, who hasn't been a backup since his freshman year in high school, figures to carry the ball the most, whether he is the running back on the field on the first offensive snap or not.
"Anytime you have a rookie, you're always going to wonder how he's going to play when he gets out there against grown men," Hackett said. "It's going to be great for him to get out there and see how he does."
Having endured Hurricane Katrina in his childhood in Louisiana, Fournette knows the emotions that will likely be on display in Houston on Sunday. Fournette was one of the first athletes to donate to the Houston recovery fund, donating $50,000 to the cause.
"My heart does go out to the Houston people. I know what it's like to go through a hurricane," Fournette said. "I slept on a bridge when I was a kid. My hearts and my prayers go out to them."