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View from the O-Zone: Key time for Fowler


JACKSONVILLE – These are important weeks for Dante Fowler, Jr., but make no mistake:

Fowler Jr. has looked good so far in Jaguars 2017 Training Camp – really good at times – and he likes a lot about what's going on these days.

He likes Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone's approach.

He likes new defensive line coach Marion Hobby's approach, too.

Fowler, too, likes where he is physically and how he is rushing the passer – which is, after all, the most-pressing football issue facing the much-scrutinized, mega-talented defensive end.

"It's going really good," Fowler said Wednesday as rain closed in on EverBank Field following a two-and-half hour practice on Day 6 of 2017 Training Camp. "Just being able to not think a lot, and just being able to play and work on my craft, that's a big, huge step for me."

Fowler understands there is a giant caveat here.

He understands that looking good in training camp is something he did last year, and he understands that looking good in training camp is nothing compared to looking good in the regular season.

But for now, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft is controlling what he can control. What he can control now is what is he doing now, and what he is doing is having a good start to camp. What he can control now is continuing to work on the pass rush moves he began honing during the offseason.

And Fowler said that part undoubtedly is going well.

Part of that, he said, is how Marrone has structured practice.

"I like the tempo," he said. "The reps that we're having – it's really getting us ready for a game."

He, too, likes the approach of Hobby, hired in the offseason to coach the Jaguars' defensive line.

Fowler, who missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, finished with four sacks last season. Many reasons have been offered for his '16 production. The ACL didn't help – and first-year pass rushers often struggle. But Fowler said he realized after his first season he needed big-time improvement on his pass-rushing moves.

That was an area he emphasized this past offseason.

He said Wednesday it's absolutely an area with which Hobby has helped.

"He's doing a really good job being specific," Fowler said. "To play defensive line, you have to be able to use your hands, and the way that he's teaching us is helping me a lot. Yesterday [Tuesday] was a really good practice. I think that was my first time using my hands like that."

But while he has looked good in camp, and while he very much sounds like focused player, Fowler is the first to tell you there's only so much he can say. And there's also really only so much he can do early in camp to show he is ready to become the player he wants to become.

Fowler said he knows he must perform, beginning in the coming weeks.

Fowler last year was a star of training camp. He dominated non-padded work in the offseason program, and impressed during early padded pass-rushing drills in training camp.

The arch of his first year changed dramatically midway through camp. That was when he struggled against Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Demar Dotson in a couple of dual practices in Jacksonville.

The struggles had a lasting effect, and Fowler said it makes the coming days and weeks – particularly a pair of dual practices against New England next week and two more against Tampa Bay the following week – particularly important.

"Last year, everything was going really good, and then we had the joint practice with the Bucs," Fowler said. "I went against Dotson and it shot my confidence down. I'm ready to redeem myself, and see how far I've progressed. Next week, and the week after will be big. I'm looking forward to it."

He's not alone. The Jaguars' defense looks much-improved this season, but dominant defenses need a dominant pass rush. Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson should provide push from inside, but nothing replaces creating fear in quarterbacks with outside pressure.

Second-year end Yannick Ngakoue is capable of creating that, but there's something particularly intimidating about Fowler's skill set. His size, athleticism, suddenness are rare – and Fowler said this week he sees signs his technique is catching up to those traits.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm bending nice coming around the edge, and I'm very confident in myself now. I'm seeing improvement. I just want to see it on the field now."

If he does, what figures to be a good Jaguars defense may have a chance to be special.

Stay tuned. The coming weeks are critical on this front, but so far, Fowler looks like he could make them worth watching.

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