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View from the O-Zone: Under the radar

Posted Oct 12, 2017

Oehser: Three overlooked reasons the Jaguars are alone in first place in the AFC South as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Rams at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday

JACKSONVILLE – We’re learning quickly about the Jaguars’ young stars.

And make no mistake:

To mention running back Leonard Fournette, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerback A.J. Bouye is to just mention the start of the list of players who could merit Pro Bowl consideration by season’s end.

But to simply mention those players is to ignore the impact of several other players on the team’s 3-2 start. What of the other, lesser-known players on this roster?

Do they, too, not deserve mention?

Glad you asked. Because you did – and even if you didn’t – here’s a look at three players who have been relatively under the radar, but who are big reasons the Jaguars lead the AFC South through five games:

1.Cam Robinson, left tackle. He’s close to leaving “under the radar,” because analysts are realizing what coaches knew much of the season: the rookie is a big reason the offensive line is outperforming preseason expectations. Robinson, a rookie second-round selection from Alabama, has allowed one sack this season – in Week 2 against Tennessee. Head Coach Doug Marrone, not always gushing in his praise of players, has gushed about Robinson and has mentioned him equally with Fournette. “He’s been impressive,” Marrone said. “The only time people usually focus in on that position is when the quarterback is getting [pressured]; he’s been doing a really good job and he’s getting better and better each week.’’ Robinson has fundamentals he can improve, but his size, leverage and instincts are impressive – and he in no way is overwhelmed by the NFL. Marrone and quarterback Blake Bortles in recent weeks both have mentioned Robinson consistently being the first to help Jaguars running backs to their feet after carries. “That is a huge thing: when you have offensive linemen running down the field, looking to give him the opportunity to make a big block to spring you, helping you up off the ground, throwing guys off you that are lying on top of you …” Bortles said. “He does a really good job of that.” The entire line deserves credit for the Jaguars leading the NFL in rushing and allowing five sacks in five games, but Robinson has the look of a long-term answer at left tackle. That’s a huge early development. Honorable mention to guards A.J. Cann and Patrick Omameh, each of whom struggled in preseason but who are playing at a higher level through five games.

2.Aaron Colvin, cornerback. Colvin, a fourth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, has been overlooked at times this offseason and season because of the presence of Ramsey and Bouye. But while Bouye and Ramsey may form the NFL’s best young cornerback duo, the Jaguars’ corners think of themselves as a trio that very much includes Colvin. He has had the ball awareness/field presence of a veteran since his rookie season, and that has made him a front-line nickel corner since early in his career. He has been a threat as a blitzer throughout his career, too – and his speed and awareness in the middle of the field showed up in a big way Sunday in Pittsburgh when he led the Jaguars with 10 tackles. “He’s definitely overlooked,” Bouye said. “I told him, ‘At the end of the day, you’re going to make plays. Everybody’s going to see it.’ … I’ve been watching him from when he was [playing collegiately] at [Oklahoma], and it’s starting to show.”

3.Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end. It’s odd to call Fowler under the radar; as the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, his profile always will be high. But his early-season performance shouldn’t be overlooked. He still could be more consistent as a pass rusher, but his athleticism and motor have made him a factor this season in passing situations. And he clearly is improved from last season. The thought here was if Fowler could double his four sacks from last season that would be major progress this season; he has four sacks through five games. He also is showing a knack for making plays, registering two quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he returned 53 yards for a touchdown in a 29-7 Week 1 victory at Houston. “He goes out and executes,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. “It was kind of a wild-card last season what we were going to get at times. He’s put in the work to learn exactly what he’s supposed to do on each given call that we send into the game. He’s able to execute those calls. You see him with his athleticism putting himself in position to make plays.” When Fowler struggled last season after missing his 2015 rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, many observers wrote him off. That writing may have been premature.

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