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Managing Leonard Fournette's workload 'not an exact science'

Leonard Fournette's 285 rushing yards ranks seventh in the NFL. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said the team needs to do a better job of managing rookie running back Leonard Fournette's workload and make sure he's on the field when it matters the most.

It's not an easy task to find the balance between getting the most out of Fournette and not subject him to too much wear and tear so early in the season and his career. Fournette's physical running style doesn't make things easier, either.

"That's always difficult because you can have a set plan [in a game] and then all of a sudden that plan will start to change," Marrone said. "I think it's tough because if we don't play him enough early on, then all of a sudden you're behind and now you're playing him but now you're not running [the ball].

"It's not an exact science but it's one that we continue to keep working on."

Fournette's 81 carries and 93 combined touches (rushes and receptions) are third in the NFL. If that average holds over the course of the season he will have 372 touches on offense, a significant workload for any back but especially for a rookie who played in only seven games in his final season at LSU.

Fournette ran the ball 24 times for 86 yards and caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets on Sunday. However, he wasn't on the field in the game's most critical moments: The Jaguars had first-and-goal at the 6-yard line trailing 20-17 with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.

Fournette was on the sideline after touching the ball on three consecutive plays: a 9-yard run, a 3-yard run, and a 23-yard screen pass for a touchdown that got called back because of a holding penalty by receiver Arrelious Benn.

Chris Ivory carried the ball on the next snap and gained 10 yards to the 6. Fournette remained on the sideline and the Jaguars threw three consecutive passes, gained just 2 yards, and kicked the game-tying field goal.

Fournette ended up carrying the ball six more times in overtime and played 39 of the team's 78 offensive snaps. Chris Ivory played 34 and Corey Grant played five. Ivory, however, touched the ball only 10 times. Fournette touched it on 36 percent of the snaps in which he played.

Marrone said one possibility is giving Ivory more carries in the first half. Getting Grant more work could happen as well. Another option could be having T.J. Yeldon active and having him share the workload, too.

The bottom line, however, is that the Jaguars want Fournette on the field and touching the ball during the game's critical moments, and they've got to find a way to find the correct balance so he can.

"The one thing I will say is everything we've asked him to do he's done," Marrone said of Fournette, whose 285 yards rushing ranks seventh in the NFL. "We've just got to keep exploring that [workload balance] and keep doing a better job so this way when the right situations come up we can put him in there, get him in there, and he's 110 percent and he's good.

"We just make decisions based on, 'Hey, listen he just went three in a row pretty hard.' His running, it's all hard running. But I think that's something we can do a better job of."