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View from the O-Zone: Fowler strikes the right cord


JACKSONVILLE – His tone was different.

The clothes were, too, not to mention the persona and the demeanor.

And the shoes? They were gray and athletic – and if they were "perhaps" more expensive than those of the reporters crowding around him, there was no gold or dazzle to be found.

That's the way Dante Fowler Jr. wanted things Friday and Saturday, the first days of the rest of his life. Lower-key and a whole lot more professional. These were his first days with the Jaguars, the team that selected him No. 3 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft Thursday, the team that needs him to be what they believed he is – i.e., the best player in this draft class.

It was time to get to work. No mistake about it.

And there was never any question Fowler would behave as such.

"Chicago, it was a lot fun things … we had gold carpet and all that stuff," a reserved, thoughtful Fowler said in a quiet Jaguars locker room following his introductory press conference Saturday morning at EverBank Field. "It was show and tell, so we were showing off. This is more like business.

"You handle this in a classier, right way. In this environment, you don't want to come out looking all bright and stuff; you're not going anywhere …

"I wanted to show them I'm ready to come in and ready to work."

You know that saying about first impressions? How they're the most important?

Maybe in this case the second impression was more important, and make no mistake:

Fowler made the right impression Saturday.

Not that the Jaguars were particularly concerned over Fowler's draft-day garb Thursday. The reaction around EverBank Field to his much-publicized, much-tweeted, very, very showy draft-day outfit – a white suit with red trim; custom-made gold shoes with spikes and glitter – was one of good-natured eyebrow-raising. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley talked of being fine with individuality, but perhaps mentioning to Fowler that the Jaguars were about team and not "me." Defensive line coach Todd Wash raised his eyebrows, too, and said there might be some conversation waiting for Fowler from his new defensive line mates.

But there was no real trepidation. They had done their research, after all. They liked Fowler's approach off the field, his work ethic and demeanor, as much as his pass-rushing ability and athleticism.

You don't rank a player as the best in a draft class if you don't like it all.

You don't take a guy No. 3 overall if you don't like it all – at least General Manager David Caldwell and Bradley don't.

Still, Fowler was aware Friday and Saturday needed a different tone.

Perhaps as significantly, Dante Fowler Sr. was aware Friday and Saturday needed to carry a different tone. And if Fowler Jr. had any doubts about that, Fowler Sr. did not.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, you know what I mean?" Fowler Sr., whose influence and importance in Fowler Jr.'s football journey is significant and unmistakable. "So, I let him have his way.  I let him dress how he wanted to dress, but he knew when he came here it was all about business. That's something he'll never forget and I wanted him to cherish it. Now, he comes to his press conference.

"He knows when it's time for business to tone it down."

That was a major theme Saturday. It was very much time to get to work, and Fowler Jr. said he's very much serious about the job ahead. He talked with proper respect about new teammates, and said he looks forward to learning from veterans such as Chris Clemons. He also showed proper respect to linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, who Fowler said was nice enough to give him his old No. 56. Not that Reynolds gave up the number for free.

"I had to give him the shoes," Fowler joked (and it was a joke).

Fowler said there was a real reason he wanted No. 56. He was a fan of running backs growing up, and "5" is for Reggie Bush at Southern California. "Six?" That's for former Jaguars fullback Greg Jones while he was at Florida State. That's one part athleticism/speed and one part raw power, and if you put the parts together, you have a pretty good pass rusher.

The Jaguars, of course, hope they have more than a good pass rusher. They hope they have an elite one. To get there, Fowler has to be more than athletic; he has to be ready to work, to have the right mentality. And that's a reason Bradley was smiling at the press conference Saturday. The low-key kid in the locker room was professional, and there was a sincerity about it all that Bradley liked a lot.

"He enjoyed the moment, he stayed in the moment, and he took advantage of it and made it the best day possible," Bradley said of Thursday. "That's how he envisioned. Now, you saw him at the press conference. He said, 'Hey, there's a time and a place for it. I felt like that as the time. Now, there's a time for this meeting.'

"That's the maturity we're hoping for. You want that individuality as long as it comes back down and there's a sense of purpose. That's what he showed."

Words such as that guarantee nothing, of course – and post-draft press conferences don't, either. But if the ability to understand the moment matters, then Fowler's NFL future could be bright.

This was a dramatically different moment than the one two days before. But there was no question that Fowler found a memorable tone, or that he made the right impression to go along with it.

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