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Bucs tailback Leonard Fournette won’t rule out vaccine, wants to learn more

“The biggest thing, our coaches respect our decisions,” the 26-year-old veteran said.
Bucs tailback Leonard Fournette (7), receiver Chris Godwin (14) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) prepare for practice at the team's mandatory minicamp in June.
Bucs tailback Leonard Fournette (7), receiver Chris Godwin (14) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) prepare for practice at the team's mandatory minicamp in June. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jul. 25
Updated Jul. 25

TAMPA — Now that the NFL’s once-stringent rules on jersey numbers have been relaxed, “Playoff Lenny” has been reborn.

At least aesthetically. No. 7, previously reserved for quarterbacks, now is being brandished by a 228-pound downhill tailback who last wore it at LSU.

“I’m happy,” Leonard Fournette said.

Yet as the Bucs’ training camp dawned on a sweltering Sunday morning at AdventHealth Training Center, that single digit — and the player wearing it — were conspicuous in a whole different sense.

Fournette, who posted (then quickly deleted) a tweet Thursday expressing his unwillingness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, reiterated his stance Sunday, but didn’t rule out receiving it upon learning more about its potential long-term impacts.

“I don’t know too much about it,” said Fournette, who signed another one-year deal with the Bucs after a sparkling postseason in which he ran for 300 yards and had 18 receptions.

“I know a lot of people who got the shot still wound up getting the corona. It’s day by day. I’m going to take it week by week, talk to the doctors and try to figure out what’s best for myself and the team.”

While indicating he has received support from teammates and coaches regarding his decision, Fournette’s choice puts him in diametric contrast to his head coach. Bruce Arians has said he will fine any unvaccinated player $14,000 on the spot for every time he isn’t wearing a mask or is violation any of the rigid COVID-19 protocols set forth by the NFL for unvaccinated players.

He also indicated he believes the team’s percentage of vaccinated players will be around 85 percent — by final cutdowns.

“(The coronavirus) is always on your mind anymore,” Arians said after Sunday’s inaugural training camp workout.

“Florida’s the hot spot in the nation, and Hillsborough and Pinellas (counties), we were No. 1 for a while. So the guys still have to be smart. We talked a lot about the Delta variant and what rules you’re following if your wristband’s red or if your wristband’s yellow.”

Fournette, 26, indicated he doesn’t believe the myriad restrictions placed on unvaccinated players will affect his preparation as he vies for the No. 1 spot on a congested depth chart featuring fourth-year speedster Ronald Jones; versatile free-agent signee Giovani Bernard and improving second-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

Among the protocols installed for unvaccinated team members are daily testing, mask-wearing, social-distancing guidelines, and restrictions on travel and congregating with large groups.

The NFL also reportedly has sent a memo to all teams informing them that any game not rescheduled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players will result in the team with the outbreak forfeiting the contest and be credited with a loss.

“The biggest thing, our coaches respect our decisions; we’re men,” Fournette said. “(Arians) said he’s 100 percent. ... Whatever we want to do, just don’t get the team sick.”

For at least the first day of a new season, that seemed a healthy compromise.

“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. They can research it and do the research for themselves,” cornerback Carlton Davis said.

“Last year, we did a really good job of not having too many cases, and we were one of the only teams who didn’t have a spike of COVID. So this year, we just want to continue that and continue to protect each other by being accountable inside and outside.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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