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Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo emphasizes importance of Leonard Fournette, running backs in passing game

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-Training Camp Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars want to get the ball to running backs in the passing game in 2019. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo spoke to the media following Wednesday’s practice, and he commented on Leonard Fournette’s ability to catch the ball, and the importance of getting the ball to the team’s halfbacks in space.

Per Jaguars.com, here is what DeFilippo had to say on the matter:

“That’s a role that (the running back) position needs to play,” DeFilippo said. “There are pass plays (in the scheme) that are extensions of your running game. “If you throw that guy a wide route, it’s basically like tossing a football and trying to circle the defense.”

While the Jaguars will still hand the ball off plenty of times throughout the season, this news isn’t all of that surprising. It has been well-advertised that Flip prefers to throw the football over running it — which is believed to be the biggest reason why the Minnesota Vikings decided to part ways with him last season.

The Jaguars’ running back room lost T.J. Yeldon this offseason; a player who had a vital role in the passing game out of the backfield. Yeldon caught 171 passes for 1,302 yards and six touchdowns during his four seasons in Jacksonville — including a career high 55 receptions in 2018. The team also lost Corey Grant, who missed the majority of last season with a foot injury. While Grant was used sparingly, he was able to use his speed to exploit mismatches in the passing game from time to time.

With those two players gone, it is up to Fournette to take on more of a role as a pass-catcher. The players behind him — Alfred Blue, Ryquell Armstead, Benny Cunningham and Thomas Rawls — will also need to step up in that regard, a skillset the majority of these players are not necessarily known for possessing.

One of the big knocks on Fournette coming out of college was his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield. That wasn’t exactly true regarding Fournette, as it was just more of a product of the offensive scheme at LSU, and he proved to be a much better receiver than many analysts anticipated.

DeFilippo has also noted Fournette’s pass-catching prowess, and plans to use him accordingly this season:

“(Fournette) has caught numerous balls each day in practice,” DeFilippo said. “I don’t want to say it’s going to be a huge piece of our offense, but it’s definitely going to be a piece for us. And that’s a credit to Leonard because we’re trying to find different, unique ways to get him the football – not just handing it to him.”

In 21 games, Fournette has caught 58 balls for 487 yards and two touchdowns for the Jags. He also had a catch rate of 84.6 percent in 2018, and owns a career catch rate of 78.4 percent. He averages 8.4 yards per reception coming out of the backfield for his career, which is actually higher than Yeldon’s 7.6 yards per reception average.

Fournette still has plenty of room for improvement in the receiving area, and of course he needs to actually stay on the field, but based on DeFilippo’s comments it seems that he, and perhaps the other running backs in the rotation, will get plenty of looks through the air this season.