TAMPA, Fla. – Leonard Fournette has a promise. For himself. For his teammates. For the world at large, with all pun intended. It’s his weight. The topic follows him around like a stalker.
“By the time the season comes, I’ll be all right,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back told USA TODAY Sports as he sat on a patio following a recent training camp practice at One Buc Place.
“I drink a gallon of water every day. Some people don’t know that in burning weight, drinking a lot of water helps a lot, too.”
Fournette insists the report that circulated during the offseason suggesting that coaches were miffed because he weighed roughly 260 pounds were exaggerated – and quite colorfully as Rick Stroud, a longtime Bucs beat writer for The Tampa Bay Times, maintained that Fournette was “a donut away from 260.”
Although he is listed (graciously) on the Bucs roster at 6-0, 228 pounds, Fournette said he played last season at 245 pounds.
“Mandatory minicamp, I came in at 250,” Fournette said, referring to the three-day camp in June. “It wasn’t my best shape, I know, but I was still starting to get in my workout flow. First, you’ve got to recover the body, get your body right (after the season). Then it’s preparatory, working out, things like that. I came in overweight, but it wasn’t that bad.”
Fournette, 27, who signed a three-year, $21 million extension during the offseason, has certainly fit the description as a “big back” from the time he entered the NFL in 2017 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, drafted fourth overall out of LSU. But even with some extra weight, it’s not like he’s rolling through the steamy dog days of camp resembling the Michelin Man.
Told that he looked rather nimble and fluid during recent drills, Fournette grinned. But he knows. Even in an era where many players typically stay in shape year-round, training camp still matters immensely for Fournette.
“This year, I’ll probably be at 233, 234,” he said. “I know everybody says I was 228 (as listed on the team’s official roster), but that was years ago, man.”
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Last season, Fournette rushed for a team-high 812 yards and ranked third on the squad with 69 receptions for 454 yards. Yet he suffered a hamstring injury in December that forced him to miss the playoff-opening win against Philadelphia and added a layer of challenge as he sought to duplicate the “Playoff Lenny” form that he exhibited during the previous season’s run to a Super Bowl crown.
Undoubtedly, part of the motivation for losing the weight includes being in peak condition for the stretch run as the Bucs again figure to be in the chase as a Super Bowl contender.
“Last year, I just couldn’t lose the weight,” Fournette admitted. “That’s just the truth. This year, I’ll be all right.”
The keys in Fournette’s case?
“Eating right. Getting my rest at night. Water,” he said.
After the minicamp in June, Fournette spent a month in Austin working with trainer Jordan Bush in what was lovingly referred as a “fat camp.” Yet even that experience drew headlines and raised red flags after Bush told The Athletic that Fournette’s weight-loss strategy included sitting in a sauna each day – sparking concern in some corners that such a method could lead to dehydration.
Fournette didn’t sweat the extra attention, owning it to the fishbowl environment that NFL players operate within. He was also criticized harshly by Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe during a segment on FS1’s “Undisputed.”
“It comes with it,” Fournette said, “and I know that. But as far as when it came out, I didn’t care. My whole life, any coach I’ve had, you can ask about my weight. I’m always heavy. I come into camp losing more weight than I want to, and that’s what it is. By the time the regular season comes, I’ll be in shape. I’m in shape now.”
The Bucs open the season on Sept. 11 at Dallas in a primetime rematch against the Cowboys, the team they opened with during the 2021 campaign. If you listen to Tom Brady, the icon who helped lure Fournette to Tampa as a free agent signee in 2020, it is critical that the running back establish himself as a receiving target in addition to powering the ground game.
When he starred on the college level years ago, Fournette was overlooked as a receiving option. That can’t happen now, even as the Bucs have bolstered wide receiving corps by adding Russell Gage and Julio Jones to a mix that includes Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Fournette leads a backfield unit that lost Ronald Jones as a free agent departure to Kansas City but brings back veteran Giovani Bernard and drafted Rachaad White from Arizona State in the third round.
“That’s got to be a big position for us,” Brady said. “They’ve got to step up and do their job. Our receivers get a lot of attention, so it leaves opportunities for the tight ends and running backs to make plays.”
Fournette is surely signing up for that – especially if it’s the ticket for another Super Bowl run.
And even if it means carrying, well, a bit less baggage.
“There’s only one goal, man,” Fournette said. “The Super Bowl. We know where we want to be. But day by day, it starts with the little things.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Leonard Fournette's weight carries major significance for Bucs' hopes