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Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette is leaner-ready to be meaner

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jaguars camp has wrapped up it’s first week of practices and one guy that fans, media and observers are always going to be interested is, running back Leonard Fournette.

The second year back out of LSU had a smashing debut in 2017 and was one of the reasons why the Jags secured an AFC South title and won two playoff games.

And now, he’s dropped some pounds to be even quicker and have more durability in 2018.

Fournette met with the media after the Thursday workout concluded and right off the bat talked about the reasons behind dropping some 10lbs. off what already looked like a textbook chiseled NFL running back body.

“I’ve been more consistent in my bursts and stuff. Just a lot of conditioning I’ve been doing in the off season,” Fournette said to a question about why he wanted to shed some poundage.

He was then asked about whether he had been concerned about dropping down in weight would cost him some of the power that he’s already been known for in the SEC and now, in his one year in the NFL,

“At first, it’s kind hard, because, you know, I haven’t been used to that weight since high school. But now it’s coming back and doing the extra with “Milo” (strength coach Tom Myslinkski) and stuff…. I brought it back to high school. I’m doing 50 push ups a night. Just trying to get my strength and power back.”

It’s that “strength and power” that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is counting on to build his gameplans around again this season. Particularly, when Fournette can establish the run early, then it sets up the play-action passing that Hackett wants for QB Blake Bortles.

A year ago, Fournette had four 100 yard or more games in the Jags first eight contests. And it was no coincidence that the team went 6-2 with the rookie doing damage early in his first season.

Later in the media session, Fournette they came back to his conditioning and the work being put in now to pay dividends down the road. He was asked if dropping the weight would make a significant difference?

“Yeah. I believe, so. I’m probably healthier than I’ve ever been before. Weight’s down. You know, just maintaining it throughout the year.”

If true, that’s a scary proposition for opposing linebackers and defensive backs who will try to get in Fournette’s way.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Even without Fowler and Ramsey- Jaguars defense flexed muscle Saturday

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars built their 2017 success largely around a dominant defense. And Saturday in Minneapolis, that defense was once, again on display, as Jacksonville stymied the Vikings starters in the first half of a 14-10 win.

Against much ballyhooed free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Jaguars were able to pressure him and keep Minnesota from having a single third down conversion, while Cousins was in the game. He finished 0-6 on the money down and just 3-8 total for a measly 12 yards.

And the Jags also got an early takeaway on this play against Latavius Murray:

Malik Jackson actually got his hand in there for the strip tackle and big Calais Campbell fell on the ball. This erased an awful interception from Blake Bortles just earlier.

In the end, Minnesota could only muster 67 total yards in the first half. So, all in all defensive coordinator Todd Wash has to be very pleased with what his unit did.

And, this was without defensive end Dante Fowler and All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey, who both had been left behind on team suspension for the week. The hope from coach Doug Marrone and the organization is that those two will be ready to straighten back up and start contributing.

One disappointing moment was the NFL’s continued crackdown of helmet use that affected a play by Pro Bowler A.J. Bouye. Bouye did have his low, but so did Vikings FB C.J. Ham after making a catch and heading up field. It was the Jags first personal foul helmet hit in their two games.

Still, it was one half in the preseason’s second game, but still Jacksonville has to be pleased overall with what came out of it.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Three things to watch as Jaguars battle Vikings

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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s preseason game number two for the Jaguars in Minnesota after Jacksonville concluded practicing for two days with the Vikings at their facilities.

We will likely see starters on both sides for both teams play through much of the first half of the contest.

With that in mind, here are three things we’ll be watching out for Saturday afternoon:

Jaguars running game

It’s no secret that the foundation of the Jags offense is based around the ability of the backs, specifically Leonard Fournette, to get something going on the ground. This is key for the play action pass game that QB Blake Bortles succeeds the best off of, as the game where’s on.

Now, it would not be surprising if Fournette only sees a series or two. After all, he’s way to valuable to risk injury in meaningless August games. Fournette did carry it eight times for 24 yards last week against the Saints.

However, back up running back T.J. Yeldon should see some significant time in this one. Yeldon played well, as a stand-in for Fournette a couple of times a year ago. However, he’s never really lived up to his second round draft status. He carried five times last Thursday night.

Backups Corey Grant and Tim Cook will also see some action, as the game continues, especially in the second half.

Pressure on Vikings QB Kirk Cousins

Minnesota broke the bank giving Cousins a massive three year free agent contract, completely guaranteed, at over $80 million. Those staggering numbers mean that the Vikings intend to have Cousins sling the ball, a bunch, throughout 2018.

Cousins led a crisp opening drive in Denver (above) in his debut last Saturday  night

However, on Saturday, he’s facing one of the top pass rushing teams in the NFL in the Jaguars.

Granted the week got off to a rocky start with defensive line mates Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue scuffling at the end of Sunday’s practice. Fowler, and defensive back Jalen Ramsey were both suspended for the rest of the week and left home for their actions.

So, now will the Jags D be able to refocus and see players like Calais Campbell, Ngakoue, Lerentee McCray and Marcel Dareus be able to solidify things along the defensive line? Also, it’s unclear if rookie first round pick DT Taven Bryan will suit up in this one. He was with the team going through part of the workouts in Minnesota, but it’s questionable as to his status.

Handle the environment

Unlike last week at home, the Jaguars are playing in the domed U.S. Bank Stadium and there is massive support and optimism for the Vikes in 2018.

Preseason or not, the loud crowd will make it hard to hear for Bortles and the offense early.

Will the Jags keep composure and mental errors to a minimum?

Will the inability to verbally communicate at times on the field rattle them?

We’re about to find out.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles saw improved offensive play Thrusday

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars wrapped up their second day of practice with the Vikings Thursday afternoon in Minnesota and their field general on offense has liked the challenge of going against one of the better defenses in the NFL.

QB Blake Bortles and his teammates knew they would get a test for two days and that they did. And on day two, they began inside when rain and the threats of thunderstorms in the Eagan MN, area sent them scurrying. They later got back outside and finished the workout.

And the fifth year QB thought they made strides. Bortles spoke to the media after the joint practice concluded:

Bortles made a good observation that while the Jaguars run a similar defense to the Vikes, their first team rarely goes against the Jacksonville first team even in training camp. The last 48 hours have been “good on good” or first team vs. first team,

“So, to actually get to come out here and play against that actual defense I think is good. As far as, seeing some of the stuff they do? Obviously, they’re not going to show us everything in practice. I am sure that something will happen in the game. Or, maybe not since it’s a preseason game. But, we gotta be ready to make adjustments on the sidelines if they show us something different.”

And another important factor for Bortles is that at this point in camp a year ago, he was struggling, including in the two day practices with the Buccaneers. Then, he played poorly in the second preseason game and was benched with the first team for Chad Henne.

As it turned out, Bortles continued to work and practice hard, was given the chance to get the starting job back before week one, played well and never relinquished it.

Now, he and the offense a year wiser in Nathaniel Hackett’s system and looking to make strides Saturday afternoon, when they tee it up in this preseason game.

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