Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette likes running over people. Well, he does sometimes.
“It all depends on what mood you’re in,’’ Fournette said this week as the Jaguars prepared for their matchup Sunday in London against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Jaguars are hoping Fournette will be in the mood to run over people more often than not because more often than not, he’ll probably have to.
A new reality the Jaguars are quickly discovering is that opponents are consistently stacking the box against them in an effort to stop Fournette.
That really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. All teams, including the Jaguars use that tactic, but for a team like the Jaguars it presents some difficult challenges.
The first belongs to Fournette, who will have to prove he truly can be the bruiser he’s believe to be because the Jaguars aren’t about to change their basic game plan.
The Jaguars went into the season determined to build their offense around a power running game and it’s becoming clear now that Fournette will have to provide the bulk of that power.
Sure, the offensive line has to provide its share as well, but it will largely be up to Fournette to make yards on his own after contact and by breaking tackles and so far he seems both able and willing to do that.
Asked this week if he’d rather take on a would-be tackler or step out of bounds on a run near the sideline, Fournette said he lets his mood decide his approach but he hinted that he likes the contact.
“Sometimes it’s better to save your body,’’ he said. “But sometimes it’s better to let somebody know it’s going to be a long day and that they’re going to have to keep on tackling.
“It all depends on what mood the runner is in. (Taking on tacklers) sends a message and not just to the defense but to your offensive line and the offense, too, because the physical part of the game starts with the offense and the O-line.’’
The other challenge those stacked boxes presents belongs to quarterback Blake Bortles. After all, those stacked boxes are designed in part to force quarterbacks such as Bortles to throw.
The key to beating them and eventually getting rid of them is to succeed in hitting on passes downfield that force the defense to keep a safety and in some cases even a linebacker back in coverage.
That opens up the running game as well as the intermediate passing game, but the Jaguars struggled with that aspect a week ago when Bortles completed only one pass of more than 10 yards while the game was still close.
Figuring out a way to correct that is the challenge that now awaits Jaguars coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who will be looking to rev up the league’s 23rd-ranked passing attack and more than likely against a stacked box.
“Everybody does it,’’ Hackett said of defenses stacking the box. “The thing about it is, at some point, you have to be able to run the ball against it. And at some point, you have to be able to throw the ball against it. It’s about finding that compromise between those two. That’s what we have to do.’’
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?