That’s the dilemma posed to the LSU coaching staff with Leonard Fournette. Can they turn to him as a featured back, giving him 20-plus carries a game, while also sending him back for kickoff returns?
“There's a point in time where you don't want to wear him out, and you do not want an injury,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “You don't want to keep pressing when he's tired.”
So is it worth it to put even more on his plate?
Fournette ranked in the Top 20 nationally last season with an average kickoff return of 26 yards on 24 attempts. That helped LSU finish second in the country in return average. Fournette also had a 100-yard return touchdown against Notre Dame, and landed on the Preseason Coaches All-SEC second team as a returner.
But does Fournette even want to return kicks?
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s whatever the team needs, whatever the team wants.”
LSU has explored all its other options to return kicks through preseason practices. The group pushing Fournette for that duty is composed entirely of true freshmen. There’s Donte Jackson, the fastest player on the team, and fellow running backs Derrius Guice and Nicholas Brossette.
While all of them returned kicks in high school, Fournette admitted it can be a difficult transition to do it in college.
“It’s harder than you think,” Fournette said. “A ton of guys coming down at full speed…The ball’s so high in the air. By the time you catch it, they’re right there. Your reactions have to be fast.”
We’ll know in one week whether LSU sticks with Fournette on returns. He seems to be happy either way, but regardless of who’s back there, he wants LSU to improve on its No. 2 finish last season in that department.
“We worked hard on that,” he said. “We’re just trying to be No. 1 this season.”
There are several positions still up for grabs. Here's a look at the ongoing position battles.