LSU coach Les Miles thinks that keeping running back Leonard Fournette rested and healthy is a top priority for this season and for his NFL future.
“We want to keep him fresh,” Miles said during his SEC teleconference. “We have good backs. As long as he’s playing fresh — fresh legs — and not nicked in any way, we feel like calling his number’s a very positive thing to do. He’s not (fresh) — we want him out. We’re going to break him with a number of very capable backs that we have that are in position to take reps in practice and are ready to go.”
Fournette will not be eligible for the NFL Draft until after next season, but Miles said he isn’t looking that far ahead. He said he is taking Fournette’s situation on a week-by-week basis. This approach may also reduce Fournette’s exposure to the media, which is similar to what UGA did last season with star halfback Todd Gurley.
Simply put, Miles said he wants Fournette to enjoy the ride.
“You want to take care of a guy like Leonard Fournette,” he said. “Not necessarily on the field, but off the field. You want to make sure he handles the regiment of having to speak to the press Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. So we cancelled some of those. We just want Leonard to go to class, play football, enjoy a smattering of media opportunities and play ball on Saturdays and have fun with his college.”
Miles and his Tigers take on what should be an inferior opponent this weekend in Eastern Michigan. Sophomore Darrel Williams and freshman Derrius Guice have 32 carries combined in relief of Fournette. Miles was asked whether his star tailback should play against a team LSU should beat handily with or without Fournette.
“We would invite and insist on inviting all of the best to the field,” Miles said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban faced a similar situation when handling star wideout Julio Jones during the 2010 season. Saban said players are better off staying in college to gain experience.
“It certainly is my opinion (that players should stay for third year),” Saban said. “I think college players develop while they’re here, and obviously those guys you mentioned (Fournette and Julio Jones) are very, very productive, good players.
“But I think you only get better by playing. And the notion that, ‘I guess you shouldn’t play because you might get injured’ — I don’t look at football as a dangerous game. You can get injured playing any game, so that means you can never play. You can actually get injured when you go on to the NFL, so… I think guys that are worried about their own things rather than focusing on being a teammate for their team, playing the best that they can play… I think all those things always create more value for every individual player.
“Julio improved… Julio was a very good player when he came here; he started as a freshman. But he got better and better and better every year that he was here. I think the biggest question is: ‘How did playing his junior year in college affect his pro career?’ He might be arguably the best receiver in the NFL, or one of ‘em, at least. So how did that negatively impact him?”
Miles said his goal is to have Fournette at his best in every game this season, and he wants Fournette to produce for his team and put his NFL talent on display.
“We feel like getting him through the season, getting him to the key contests — certainly this Saturday and thereafter — that allow us the opportunity for him to not (only) do the things he’s capable of doing for our team and that he might show what could be a prospective employer in the NFL,” Miles said.