JACKSONVILLE – Dante Fowler Jr.'s looking good and feeling good.
To be sure, there were other storylines on Monday's sun-splashed first day of Jaguars 2016 Organized Team Activities at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields:
*A bunch of new faces in new places.
*Marqise Lee's opportunity.
*Myles Jack's absence.
*Luke Joeckel's challenge.
*And, of course, Jalen Ramsey's knee.
We'll also talk a lot of Blake Bortles in the coming weeks because … quarterback. But as far as Set-the-Offseason-Tone Storylines, none were quite as overriding Monday as how Fowler looked. And here's the good news for the Jaguars.
He looked good. And he felt good.
"I can turn it loose," Fowler said following an OTA practice of a little more than an hour and a half Monday. "I felt pretty good, especially bending the corner and turning my torque and things like that. That was my biggest concern. That's what I wanted to see, and I felt pretty good."
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley felt good about Fowler's day, too.
"I thought Dante looked really good," Bradley said. "He still has some work to do. He has a little rustiness. We're holding him back a little. We just want to see how he comes along and how he handles it, but attitude? Work ethic? Unbelievable."
In one sense, it's no surprise Fowler looked good Monday. Jaguars coaches had liked what they had seen from the second-year Leo end during Phase One and Phase Two of the offseason program in recent weeks.
Fowler, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft who missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, had looked good in on-field work, showing little-to-no hesitation moving on the surgically-repaired knee.
But OTAs are different from Phase One and Two. There's still no contact, but they're closer to football than anything Fowler had done in the last year. It was enough of a big deal that Fowler admitted he had a bit of trouble sleeping Sunday night.
"I actually did," Fowler said with a laugh. "I found myself waking up a lot. I tried to remember if I took a nap, but I didn't. I said, 'I know what it is.' I was just antsy and ready to get out here.''
Once on the field Monday, Fowler looked the part. He wore a large knee brace – "as much protection as I can get," he said – and appeared to move without hindrance. When asked about Fowler afterward, left tackle Luke Joeckel smiled.
"He's quick," he said.
Joeckel added that Fowler indeed "got him" on one inside move, and Fowler unsurprisingly smiled when talking about that.
Images from the first day of organized team activities.
"It felt good to get back out here and move around and showcase some stuff," he said. "I just wanted to come out, make it through a practice, get the feel of it again and be around the guys. … I'm just now soaking it all in like, 'Man, I made it through a practice. I felt good. This didn't hurt. That didn't hurt. …' "
Fowler is far from the only defensive storyline in the coming months. Free safety Tashaun Gipson and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, free agents who participated in their first Jaguars OTA Monday, need to have the expected impact.
How will Jack – who won't participate in much of the offseason because his school, UCLA, remains in spring classes – fit into the defense? When will Ramsey, who spent Monday seeking a second opinion on the small meniscus tear sustained in his right knee in on-field Phase Two work recently – return?
Those are critical questions, but the good, big-picture news for the Jaguars is in Jack, Ramsey and Fowler they have three of the best four or five defensive players to enter the draft in the last two years. And the Jaguars saw a very important sight from one of them Monday.
That sight was Fowler on the field, looking like what he was:
A Top 5 selection with elite-level ability.
Fowler alone won't make the defense elite, and perhaps he alone won't turn a pass rush/third-down defense that struggled last season into a legendary force. But Fowler's presence can make in impact, and his loss was significant last season.
"At the end of the day, we need a pass rusher, and we need someone to get to the quarterback and disrupt the quarterback," Fowler said. "We all know what the job is and what there is to it. That's my job and that's what I'm going to do."
Fowler indeed was on the field Monday, taking some early steps toward doing that job. And after a long, long wait, he not only participating in his first official NFL OTA, he looked good, healthy and quick doing it.
And that's something the Jaguars really needed to see.