But when the head coach is Bruce Arians, who has preached a ‘hot hand’ methodology of running back snaps, there’s a growing question surrounding the use of one-time primary back, Ronald Jones II.
“When ‘RoJo’ got hurt he took over and he’s not looking back,” Arians said of Fournette this week. “It’s hard for ‘RoJo’ to get back out there unless he gets hurt.”
Through six games in 2020, Jones (RoJo) helped get the Bucs off to a 4-2 start with 97 carries, 472 yards rushing, and six touchdowns. He was coming off his third straight 100-yard rushing performance, and Tampa Bay had just beaten the Green Bay Packers, 38-10.
During that three-game stretch, Jones carried the ball 17 times or more in each, and was a Top-5 running back in the NFL.
After six games, he had 17 or more carries just two more times, spent time on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, and had just 35 carries in four postseason games, including the Super Bowl.
During the regular season, Fournette didn’t exactly take over, as much as he simply ate into touches. With Jones out, however, the rise of ‘Lenny’ began. Like Arians said, he took over, and hasn’t looked back yet.
‘Playoff’ and ‘Lombardi Lenny’ had 64 carries in the team’s four postseason games, ran for 300-yards, and scored seven total touchdowns.
Through six games this season, Fournette is just 21 carries from matching his entire 2020 workload, and is just 55-yards from his total offensive output last season. With the pace he’s going, he’ll surpass at least one of those, in Week 7.
Meanwhile, Jones is on pace to have his first sub-100 carry season since his rookie season.
Can Jones get back into the game plan?
Arians isn’t known for mixing words, so if the Bucs head coach says an injury is about the only way Jones will get more playing time, then we have to believe him.
Then there’s the reputation he’s built in being hard on backs who miss blocks, fumble the ball, or drop passes. What if Fournette has one of these, or multiple, mistakes?
Some will believe the hook could be just as quick for Fournette as it seemingly was at times for Jones. I don’t believe this to be the case.
In fact, with the performances Fournette has put on the field, and the attitude shift the franchise has witnessed since his healthy scratch last season, it’s fully reasonable to think he’s earned some mulligans, if the situation arises.
It’s important to remember, Jones’ pass blocking issues might be the biggest reason the team doesn’t put him on the field, and one of the reasons Fournette had the chance to grab more snaps in the first place.
These blitz pickup issues aren’t new, and haven’t appeared to have gotten better in game situations.
All of this contextual information would likely lead to a lack of transfer from Fournette to Jones, even if the RB1 were to commit one of the deadly running back sins.
Of course, nobody is infallible, and injuries do happen - tell Bucs fans something they don’t know.
Which is why Jones won’t be going anywhere this season, and why his best course of action is to continue working, and staying prepared for the snaps he does get.
“No, not at all,” Arians said when asked about potentially trading a running back before the league’s deadline. “It’s a long season, and just that scenario that happened last year, and still with COVID - you can’t have enough good players.”
Jones is a good player. Not perfect, but who is?
If fans of the running back need cause to stay patient, and if the back himself needs one, it’s the exact developments which led to Fournette’s prominent role today.
Not that anyone would wish injury, or illness, on another human being for their own personal gain.