JACKSONVILLE – The objective is clear for Dante Fowler Jr.
Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash has talked to Fowler about the objective in recent days, and it's one Wash framed this way when speaking to the media Wednesday:
"We're really pressuring him right now to become a pro at an early age."
Wash went on to discuss Fowler's early preseason play, talking of counseling Fowler on "being great in the classroom, taking it from the classroom to the field, studying more tape on his own."
That's a message Fowler said he's hearing.
"If they're telling me something, they're telling me because they care for me," Fowler said. "They know I can become a better pro. I'm going to listen to them. I love [Jaguars Head Coach] Gus [Bradley] and Wash. They're teaching me not to just become a dominant player but a man off the field, too. I really respect that."
Wash on Wednesday discussed Fowler extensively, with the essence being clear: There are things young pass rushers must learn to be successful in the NFL—pass-rushing techniques and how to study opponents chief among them – and that Fowler must do these things sooner rather than later. Wash emphasized that Fowler was not unusual on this front.
"I think you have to do that with every young player," Wash said. "They don't know what the league is like and what they have to do. … As a great athlete in college, a lot of guys don't have to do it. At this level, everybody's good.
He has to continue to get better at the mental side of the game, and he is, so we're excited about that. We just have to keep challenging him, because I think he's going to be a good one."
The difference, of course, is not every young player is closely scrutinized as a Top 3 selection. And not every young player has Fowler's otherworldly talent, something he showed in memorable fashion early in 2016 Training Camp.
Fowler during that period seemed to make a highlight-reel play almost daily.
"Then he lined up against Dotson," Wash said. "That was a learning experience for him."
Wash was referring to Tampa Bay Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson, a 6-feet-9, 315-pound, eight-year NFL veteran. Fowler got little pressure against Dotson in two joint practices last week or in a preseason game at EverBank Field Saturday.
"It opened his eyes a little bit that 'It's not as easy as I think it's going to be,''' Wash said.
Wash said the coaching staff has met with Fowler one-on-one to study his pass rush, and said Fowler is improving in the necessary areas.
"We set some things out for him: 'You gotta do this and you gotta do that,' and he's reaching those expectations," he said.
As for Fowler, he very much this week sounded like a player who has heard the message. He said the experience against Dotson was a humbling one that helped him realize the work ahead.
He also said he values the work he and Wash are doing. Fowler said he and then-Florida Head Coach Will Muschamp met similarly entering his final collegiate season at the University of Florida, with Muschamp showing him clips of players who played fast. Fowler said Wash has showed him his own pass rush, then clips of effective NFL defensive ends.
"Once I see what I'm doing and what I'm supposed to do, it's going to elevate in a jiffy," Fowler said. "Once I get everything in the right pieces, I'll be fine."
Fowler gets, too, that it will take more than athleticism and natural ability to succeed in the NFL.
"Everybody's good at this level," Fowler said. "You always have to bring your 'A' game, and you just can't bring your 'A' game physically. You have to be able to do things fundamentally. That's what I'm learning right now, my fundamentals on the field and off the field. Once I get those right, I'll be fine.
"I'm not always going to win with athletic ability. There's another way I can win, with my fundamentals or my hands – and also mentally by studying and knowing my personnel and knowing the little things tackles do. All of those things can elevate your game."
The Jaguars will continue challenging Fowler in the coming weeks. He's the starting Leo, and therefore the Jaguars defensive lineman most responsible for generating pressure off the edge. The Jaguars may not need double-digit sacks from Fowler, but they need pressure and disruption.
There's no reason to believe Fowler won't give them those things. But it's not going to be easy and it's going to take more than talent.
The positive for Fowler and for the Jaguars is it appears that message is taking hold.