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On the rookie first-rounder: Scratching the surface

JACKSONVILLE - He's already good.

At times this season, he already has been really, really good.

Josh Allen won't say it quite like that, but it's true – and Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone absolutely will say it. Marrone on Wednesday said something else about the first-round rookie edge rusher – something intriguing, exciting and important for the Jaguars' future.

"I think you're only seeing the surface, really," Marrone said as the Jaguars (3-4) prepared to play the New York Jets (1-5) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday.

Allen, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft and a player key to the Jaguars' immediate and long-term future, isn't cocky by nature. But he is confident and agrees with Marrone that whatever he has done in his first seven games shouldn't be close to what is to come.

"The ceiling is super high, and I'm nowhere close to it," Allen said. "If you get to that part, you'll be perfect or retired. I'm nowhere close to that."

If what Allen has done in less than half a season is the "surface," then what happens when he digs beyond that indeed may be one of the most important stories currently developing around the Jaguars.

Allen, who played collegiately at the University of Kentucky, has emerged in recent weeks as one of the NFL's top rookie pass rushers. He has five sacks this season, the most for a Jaguars player through the first seven games of a career since former Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson registered five sacks through the first seven games of 2002.

"I would probably say it's been a regular progression of strides from a technique standpoint," Marrone said. "You learn every week; you're learning as you go. You're working on it and trying to become very consistent. The thing that I appreciate, the one that hasn't changed, is his desire or his effort. He just has great effort, goes full-go, does everything you want.

"So, that's what I'm saying – when the technique, and the experience, and all this stuff is starting to come in, and you're healthy, someone like him can really be a heck of a football player."

Marrone has talked about Allen consistently in that vein since the April draft. The rookie has impressed coaches with his approach since arriving in Jacksonville. Although he missed much of the offseason with a knee issue, he quickly showed his athleticism, strength and power in training camp – and has turned that potential into production during the season.

A major reason: a mature approach on and off the field, and a willingness to listen to and learn from veteran pass rushers such as end Yannick Ngakoue and end Calais Campbell.

"He's handled himself really well," Marrone said. "I think that was smart on Josh for him to find someone like Calais and do that stuff, and he's playing well, but he has so much growth left. I mean he's going to get so much better.

"He's playing well for us, but we really have high expectations for him and what he can do."

Allen has earned that praise. And because he has been a factor rushing the passer from early in the season, Marrone said teams are already chipping Allen with tight ends and running backs to help tackles blocking Allen. Teams long have done this with Campbell and Ngakoue.

"It's a compliment to both those guys (Allen and Ngakoue), that they do a good enough job that people are planning," Marrone said. "Then it puts a little bit more of a challenge on us on how to free those guys up more."

Allen was asked about already receiving what is considered a measure of respect in NFL circles.

"I'm honored, but it still sucks," Allen said with a smile. "Either way it goes, you still have to win. We've been working a lot more on those chips and all that. Hopefully, if we get them, I'll get the benefit of them with Yann as well and Calais. We can't let that stop us."

Allen has shown greater ability to win by the week. After going without a sack in the first two weeks of the season, he registered two in a Week 3 victory over Tennessee. Including that game, he now has five in his last five games.

"I'm still trying to get accustomed to the game and accustomed to the speed," Allen said. "Slowly but surely, it's coming along. I read some plays quicker than others. Once I get to the part of my game where I can just react to it, I feel like I'll be a dominant player.

"I'm going to continue to grow every day. There's a lot of learning I have to do. I'm just going to grow and continue to get better each day because nobody's perfect. I'm trying to be great."

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