TAMPA — The images from Day 1 of the Bucs’ mandatory minicamp didn’t lie. To his credit, neither did Leonard Fournette.
Roughly six weeks before the start of training camp, Tampa Bay’s resident three-down back doesn’t yet resemble Playoff Lenny. Or even Playing Weight Lenny.
“I’m at 240-something (pounds) right now,” Fournette said Tuesday. “So definitely 230, 228 is definitely my range.”
Of all the scenes from the Bucs’ first full-squad workout of the 2022 season, the unflattering ones of Fournette — frequently taking a knee, mishandling Tom Brady passes during individual drills — seemed the most conspicuous.
And in a later stage of summer — say, early August instead of early June — they might have elicited grumbles and groans, not the gasps and guffaws they spawned Tuesday on social media. But Fournette, 27, has a history of offseason weight fluctuation, and no one is publicly panicking — yet.
“Obviously I need to get my weight down, which has always been (a thing) during the summer,” Fournette said following Tuesday’s 90-minute workout at AdventHealth Training Center. “It’s going to come back down though.”
Betraying no concern, first-year coach Todd Bowles said Fournette didn’t appear “any worse for wear.”
“I don’t think anybody’s where they need to be right now,” Bowles added.
“It’s training camp where you need to be where you’ve got to be, so right now there are guys that are in shape that could afford to lose a few pounds, and there’s guys that are out of shape that are really under weight. So we’re trying to take care of that right now. We’ll worry about it in training camp.”
Until then, the issue will linger, if only because Fournette’s offense role isn’t expected to slim down.
In March, only 15 months after being nearly released by Bruce Arians for a detrimental attitude, Fournette agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with the Bucs, capping his staggering transformation into one of the most complete backs in franchise history.
A prime beneficiary of Tom Brady’s trust, he ran for 812 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 69 passes for 454 yards and two scores in 2021. That reception total ranked third on the team, behind only Chris Godwin (98) and Mike Evans (74), in the regular season.
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“My first year was tough for me, being behind RoJo (Ronald Jones) and things like that,” said Fournette, who totaled 448 yards and four touchdown during his 2020 postseason surge.
“But I had to come out and compete each and every day at practice. My number was called and I made the best of it. And the following year, I just came in competing, despite (knowing) I was probably going to share carries again with him.”
Presuming he returns to game shape, Fournette likely will have to do minimal sharing in 2022. Veterans Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard are back, and the team drafted versatile Arizona State star Rachaad White in the third round, but none possess the same clairvoyance with their quarterback.
Shortly after Brady’s un-retirement in mid-March, he even put a call in to Fournette, who happened to be visiting the Patriots — of all teams — as a free agent.
“I was just shopping around, man, just seeing what best fits me,” Fournette said.
“And when (Brady) signed back, he called me and was like, ‘Man, what’s your a-- doing up there?’ I’m like, ‘Trying to figure some things out.’ So I signed back and it was a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I go back?”
Now it’s just a matter of sharpening up, slimming down and re-discovering the wavelength he shares with his quarterback. If this really is Brady’s final act in Tampa, Fournette wants a beefy role.
In a manner of speaking.
“That’s definitely one of my goals right now,” he said, “to play at the weight I feel comfortable at.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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