JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Now that the 2017 season is underway, it's time to bring back the Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag. Each Saturday morning I'll answer a representative question, hitting a topic that drew the most interest. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco. Please use the hashtag #jagsmail.
— Neal Morgan (@nmorgan429) October 6, 2017
@ESPNdirocco: Before I get into the topic of running back Leonard Fournette's workload -- which has been one of the main topics of the week -- let me correct you a bit. Fournette was on the field for at least one third down against the New York Jets. He lost 4 yards on third-and-1 in the third quarter.
It's understandable that the Jaguars want to be careful of overloading Fournette. He's a rookie and his physical running style adds to the kind of pounding he takes, and the Jaguars want to make sure he's not exhausted or banged up at the end of the season. That's why they're heavily rotating in Chris Ivory and sprinkling in Corey Grant throughout the game.
However, Fournette should be on the field during the game's most critical moments. In explaining why the Jaguars drafted Fournette fourth overall, executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin said the team needed playmakers and “people to put the ball in the end zone.” At no point against the Jets was it more important to put the ball in the end zone than late in the fourth quarter with the Jaguars having a first-and-goal from the 6. Fournette wasn't on the field -- he came out two plays earlier after his screen-pass touchdown was called back because of a penalty -- and the Jaguars threw the ball three consecutive times before kicking a field goal to force overtime.
Coach Doug Marrone said managing Fournette's workload is "not an exact science" and said the team will look at the rotation with Ivory this week. One potential solution is giving Ivory more work in the first half and then giving Fournette the bulk of the work in the second. That is dependent on the game being close, of course, but you don't go into games thinking you're going to be blown out. And the plan can always change during the game.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was asked on a conference call this week how the Steelers manage Le'Veon Bell's workload. Bell had 10 carries in the opener against Cleveland, followed by 27 against Minnesota, 15 against Chicago and 35 last week against Baltimore. Tomlin said the Steelers use Bell as much as they need to in order to get the victory.
"We don't over-analyze it," Tomlin said. "He's a highly-conditioned guy. He's a big-time competitor. We're just trying to do what's required to win games. Sometimes that's going to be more than others. Over the long haul I expect it to balance itself out because you're going to have weeks like we had in Chicago where he had 14, 15 carries due to game circumstance."
That's an approach the Jaguars should take with Fournette.