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View from the O-Zone: Fowler has the look of a star


JACKSONVILLE – OK, so the time has come to say it …

Dante Fowler Jr. has the look of a star. An absolute star.

Maybe that sentence will look silly in a few months. Maybe a week into his first NFL training camp is too soon to talk like this. Maybe four padded practices – two full, two in shoulder pads – is too soon to anoint a guy a bona fide front-line edge rusher.

Actually, there are no "maybes" about it. It is too soon – way too soon. For all of it. And yet …

It feels right, doesn't it?

If you've been around Jaguars 2016 Training Camp, it does. That's because in a camp stuffed with huge stories – Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey – Fowler has staked out a high-profile piece of real estate as the player with perhaps the best chance to "break out" during the 2016 season.

That's the feel after a week of camp, anyway.

"He definitely has the skills to be great," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said Thursday, adding "A lot of talent … a lot of talent …"

Defensive tackle Roy Miller said while he knew Fowler was talented he hadn't watched him much at the University of Florida. Miller on Thursday spoke of Fowler being quicker, faster and stronger than he anticipated.

"I think he's taking a lot of people by storm," Miller said.

Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Todd Wash haven't gushed quite so gushingly about Fowler. At least not publicly. It's their job to keep perspective, but within their quotes during the early days of camp there is some decided gushing going on.

The storyline about Fowler's return from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him his rookie season is gone. There's no more worry about the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft having confidence in that surgically repaired knee. That pretty much went away during organized team activities and June minicamp, and has seemed long since forgotten watching Fowler make memorable practice plays on what seems like a daily basis over the past week.

Indeed, when Wash met with the media Wednesday he talked about how to slow Fowler down, a topic that arose after Fowler early in camp showed the tendency to hit harder and more often than is ideal during a time when staying healthy is more important than Vine-worthy practice highlights.

Wash did say Fowler was a bit of "bull in a china closet" during camp, and he did talk of Fowler perhaps slowing down. But there was a smile as he spoke.

 "That's the type of mental makeup we want on defense," Wash said.

Bradley smiled when discussing the topic, but did say there's a balancing act as a coach when addressing such a situation.

"What do they say? Better to say, 'Whoa' than 'giddy-up?''' Bradley said. "Boy, you love the aggressiveness. He has to make sure that he's not selfish, that it's not about him. You want to keep that spirit, but you can't be selfish."

The feeling here is the hitting-in-practice-issue is a rookie blip. However bright or dim the blip, the far more important issue is Fowler's talent.

Fowler is good, and he is showing it in ways that almost certainly will translate once the regular season begins. He is dynamic in pass rushing drills. His athleticism is striking and his strength is, too. The energy and power he shows in one-on-one pass rush, and his quickness and explosiveness, is unlike anything this franchise has seen at the position in recent memory.

For this defense, there couldn't be better news.

That's because for all the hype around the rookie class, and for all the focus on cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack, if you had a choice of who you would want to be the best of the bunch you would take Fowler. He's an edge rusher and he's the closest of the trio to the ball.

If you have a chance to get a sudden, disruptive, unblockable impact player close to the ball, you take it.

Take a look at some of the best images from Thursday's practice.

And yes, maybe that word – "unblockable" – will seem silly in a few months, too. It's even silly right now. No NFL player is "unblockable," certainly not a guy in his first season. But you can't have attended a Jaguars practice in the last week and not call Fowler sudden and disruptive. And you can't have attended one and not think the guy's going to have an immediate impact.

No, the story around Fowler no longer appears to be whether he can play at a high level after missing his rookie season. The story appears to be just how good he can be – and just how quickly he can reach that potential.

That potential appears to be even more than many people imagined – and he appears capable of fulfilling it quickly. And for the Jaguars' defense, there couldn't be better news.

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