I’m with Jabbar Juluke on this one.
The new running backs coach at LSU recently lamented his “daunting task” of making tailback Leonard Fournette “better” for the upcoming season — a commendable, but equally ambitious goal for the nation’s No. 2 returning rusher (1,953 yards in 2015 — trailing only Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey).
Obviously, people in all walks of life (including sportswriters) can improve upon themselves in everyday living. And for a stud tailback at the college level, strides can be made with pass blocking, pass receiving, getting to the handoff zone quicker, getting faster, getting stronger, making sharper cuts, making quicker decisions, etc.
From a production standpoint, though, it’s hard to envision Fournette eclipsing all these claims to fame from 2015 (below):
**At least 150 rushing yards in his first seven outings.
**Nine total games of 150-plus rushing yards.
**Twelve outings of at least one touchdown (14 of 15 games with at least one TD, dating back to 2014).
**A remarkable average of 6.5 yards per carry.
**Rolling for five touchdowns (one receiving) in a bowl game (poor Texas Tech).
**Four games of 200-plus rushing yards (tying Alabama’s Derrick Henry, the nation’s rushing champion).
**Averaging 163 rushing yards per game, a higher tally than McCaffrey (144.2 YPG), Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (140 YPG), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (141.2 YPG) and Henry (148 yards per game) — the Crimson Tide’s second Heisman Trophy winner in history.
The only improvement givens for 2016:
a) Fournette is an easy-breezy candidate for 2,000 yards rushing — a mark he would have surpassed last season, if the LSU-McNeese State opener hadn’t been cancelled due to bad weather.
b) You can bet the proverbial farm Fournette will quadruple his 2015 output against Alabama (31 rushing yards, one TD) — when the Tigers and Crimson Tide lock horns in Baton Rouge (Nov. 5).
“As far as football goes, we want to clean up anything (Fournette’s) done in the past and make him better,” said Juluke in a sports-radio interview, as reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate. “That’s going to be a daunting task … The young man does everything extremely well.”
In essence, Juluke (formerly of Louisiana Tech; apparently a longtime Fournette family acquaintance) has the easiest — and most difficult — job in college football this fall.
If Fournette struggles out of the gate — against the likes of Wisconsin (possible), Jacksonville State (highly unlikely), Mississippi State (maybe), Auburn (unlikely) and Missouri (highly unlikely) — the menacing glares of the LSU faithful may invariably fall to Juluke.
And in a close-quarters, football-mad state like Louisiana … there’s really nowhere to hide when that’s the case.
However, I’m not worried about Fournette’s preparations for the coming season. Yes, he’ll have top-notch competition for the Heisman award and national rushing title (along with McCaffrey, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd and UGA’s Nick Chubb — if fully healthy).
But given his character traits of being intelligent, humble, determined, focused, unselfish and driven … Fournette remains the college-football equivalent of a high-powered, self-cleaning oven.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.