Fournette happy to have 'clean start' with Jags

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Leonard Fournette thought the best way to make up for a terrible 2018 season was to basically start over.

Despite an offseason arrest for driving with a suspended license, the Jacksonville Jaguars running back believes he has had a successful reboot, and he and the team are on solid footing heading into his third season.

"I'm happy, especially the way I'm here working with my team right now," Fournette said Friday after the team's third organized team activity. "It's a new year. We have a new team. We're focused and we have new players. It's a new year for us. So it's a new everything. It's a clean start for a lot of us guys.

"We're not focused on the past. The past's the past. Some things I did, whether it was offseason and I admitted to, yeah, I was wrong. We moved on. We're in a good place right now."

If any Jaguars player needed a clean start, it was Fournette, who ran for 439 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 after rushing for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie to help the Jaguars reach the AFC Championship Game.

He missed seven games last season because of injuries and was suspended for another. There were questions about his maturity, commitment to football, conditioning, on-field behavior and production.

Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in 2017, decided that the best thing to do would be to train at the University of Wyoming with Ben Iannacchione, who was hired as the school's director of sports performance after spending six of the past seven seasons working in the strength and conditioning program at LSU.

Fournette, who starred at LSU from 2014 to '16, said the biggest benefit of going west was eliminating the distractions he would face if he stayed and trained in his hometown of New Orleans.

"I kind of put a lot on myself this offseason, like getting my body right," Fournette said. "Just mentally coming back ready to play football. No distractions. Leaving the outside stuff where it's at. I think that's one of the biggest things that us players have a problem with.

"We face a lot of problems, you know what I mean? We have a lot of issues ourselves. And if we're not right with ourselves and then we come out on this field, we're not going to be right in the game."

Fournette said he now weighs 226 pounds, which is about 14 pounds lighter than he was at the end of the 2018 season. However, he showed up for organized team activities last year at 223 pounds, and things didn't go smoothly.

He missed six full games and half of two others with a right hamstring injury in the first eight weeks of the season, and there was mounting frustration inside the organization about the length of his absence. The Jaguars built the offense around a power-run game, and the offense had a hard time functioning consistently without him on the field.

Fournette was suspended without pay for leaving the bench and fighting with Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Shaq Lawson during a 24-21 loss at Buffalo on Nov. 25. Shortly after that, the Jaguars told Fournette that they were voiding the guaranteed money remaining in his contract as punishment, which Fournette has appealed with the NFL.

He also was caught on video yelling at a fan in the stands during an embarrassing loss to Tennessee on Dec. 6. Fournette said several days later that the fan used a racial slur.

Fournette lost playing time late in the season because of his lack of production. The season ended on a sour note when Tom Coughlin, the team's executive VP of football operations, 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."

Although Fournette's offseason got off to a good start in Wyoming, it went downhill quickly when he returned to Jacksonville. He was stopped for speeding on April 11 and was arrested for driving with a suspended license. Coach Doug Marrone said the team would not discipline him.

Despite Fournette's struggles last season, the Jaguars are planning to make him the centerpiece of their offense in 2019.

"I'm going to call it what it is: He's going to be a major reason for where our offense goes," new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat that. Leonard Fournette needs to be a big part of this offense. The harder he works, which he is right now, I think that's not only going to be good for our offense but good for our team."