JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines Jaguars 2016 Training Camp Day Three with an eye on DE Dante Fowler Jr., TE Julius Thomas and DT Sen'Derrick Marks …
Good day for Fowler
The smile was real – and really big.
And why shouldn't Dante Fowler Jr. be happy? He's playing football in pads again. He's playing well. He's feeling good.
Yes, that made Saturday a really good day.
"It was good to get a couple of pops out there, to get that weight off my shoulders," Fowler said Saturday following the Jaguars' first padded work of 2016 Training Camp.
While Saturday's work was shoulder-pads only, it was a big moment for the second-year defensive end – and a long-awaited one.
The No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, Fowler last worked in pads on January 3, 2015, in his final game at the University of Florida. He missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in rookie minicamp in May.
And while the Jaguars don't go full pads until Tuesday, there was enough contact – enough real football stuff – Saturday that Fowler considered it important. He looked strong in one-on-one pass-rush drills, winning for a sack with a spin move and winning several other matchups.
He also had one of the memorable plays of the day, leveling running back Chris Ivory on a run up the middle in an early drill.
"I was in pads," Fowler said, smiling. "It was good to see where I stand with the guys. It's a start and I have a lot of work to do, but I felt good where I was at."
Fowler had one other reason to smile Saturday. He said in one sense he felt back to 100 percent on his surgically repaired knee. At the same time, he said there is quickness and strength still to be gained.
"You really can't tell how close I am," Fowler said. "I know that I am back, but I know my capabilities. I still have to get my explosiveness back. I feel explosive and I feel faster, so I can only imagine how it's going to be when everything comes in. I still have work to put in."
Fowler said people will know when he fully regains confidence: when he no longer wears a brace on his knee. He is practicing with a brace but said he may eventually play without one this season.
Take a look at some of the best images from the third day of Jaguars training camp.
Julius Thomas says without question he's more comfortable entering his second season in the Jaguars' offense. "Everything just comes back quicker," the veteran tight end said Saturday. Last offseason Thomas signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent – and like the entire offense, spent the offseason learning then-first-year coordinator Greg Olson's scheme. "The communication is better, the understanding the offense is better," Thomas said of entering Year Two. "It helps you get into that rhythm a little bit quicker than last year for sure. … When we come into a second-year offense, we don't have to spend as much time worrying about things that we already know. Now we can try and focus on some things that maybe were difficult for us or maybe we feel we need to improve on. So it's definitely helping us become a better unit."
… also notable
Thomas, who sustained a hand injury on the first series of the Jaguars' first preseason game last season, said he never played completely without pain in the area last season. Asked how the area is entering camp this season, he said, "It's alright. I mean, I don't know if everything always goes back. So it's cool. I've learned how to do everything I need to do." Thomas caught 46 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games last season.
"Blake [Bortles] is getting better. You can tell how much time he put in the offseason as far as understanding the defenses, understanding the offense, the different things he's able to communicate and see out there. We're very excited with what he's been doing. The sky's the limit for that guy."
--- Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas
*A couple of early standouts in camp: defensive tackle Sheldon Day and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, a pair of rookies who could play their way into key roles quickly. Ngakoue, a third-round selection, has impressed with his athleticism and made several impact plays in Thursday's first practice. Day, a fourth-round selection, has impressed since organized team activities and minicamp – and coaches are impressed with his ability to disrupt from the interior. Both players were impressive in pass-rush drills Saturday.
*Saturday was important for defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. The veteran missed the last seven games of last season with a triceps injury. He had used the triceps against blockers in the first two days of camp, but he said doing so in padded, contact work was another key step. "I actually got to put my face in it, my chest in it and got to use my arm," said Marks, who led the Jaguars with 8.5 sacks in 2014. "I felt great."