JACKSONVILLE – This was the news no one wanted, the story no one wanted to tell. Not really.
Team website. Local television. Newspaper. Radio. AP.
No one wanted to be here, listening to Gus Bradley discuss Dante Fowler Jr. Bradley didn't want to be here, and while his smile and outlook was rosy, Fowler didn't want to be here, either. Not on crutches. No one wants to hear or a tell a story this sad, this frustrating. But there everyone was anyway, an hour before Saturday's final practice of 2015 Jaguars rookie minicamp. And there Bradley was, talking about Fowler's rookie season ending unthinkably long before it began. Unthinkable. Unreal.
"He will be out for the season; he did tear his ACL," Bradley said Saturday at a media availability a EverBank Field shortly before the start of the second and final practice of 2015 rookie minicamp.
Bradley issued that quote by way of introduction Saturday, to officially state what Jaguars and NFL fans already figured.
Still, to hear the words again made them real all over again.
Yes, Fowler's season is over. Already. It ended Friday when the rookie edge rusher/Leo/defensive end's left knee bent at the wrong angle on the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields during the first hour of Fowler's NFL career. That's right, the first hour.
Fowler, the dynamic, easy-to-like player from the University of Florida – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft – went down holding his left knee. He was helped from the field by trainers. The wait for the news began. And after Jaguars officials, media and fans waited a few hours that seemed like longer, the awful, inevitable diagnosis finally came:
Torn anterior cruciate ligament.
That means Fowler is out for his rookie season. Over. Already.
Saturday was the first we heard from Fowler and Bradley since the injury. Bradley was Bradley, of course. He spoke of loving what he heard from Fowler, of loving Fowler's spirit.
"I see why we drafted him when we did," Bradley said. "His spirit, his mindset going into this – I find it hard to be matched."
As for Fowler Saturday, he was remarkable. He's 20 years old, and a 20-year-old with unworldly talent and a bright future is nonetheless still 20 years old. He could have been excused for not wanting to speak to the media, and for being surly and depressed when he did.
He was neither, and talked instead of being appreciative of the well-wishes of fans and friends. He spoke of returning bigger and stronger, and even talked of appreciating the opportunity to have participated in the first half of Friday's practice.
"I'm the guy that's really thankful about things," Fowler said. "I cherish a lot of things. My biggest thing was just that I loved that the fans were out there and to show them the type of guy that I am, showing those guys the player that they are going to have soon.
"Just to get out there and play football – I love this game so much."
If part of you rightly wondered how thankful – deep down – Fowler actually could be, another part did marvel at how positively and maturely Fowler handled the whole situation.
That was the mood Saturday. Looking forward, staying strong – and for the long term, there's plenty of reason for optimism. As Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell noted at the NFL Annual Meeting in March, gone are the days when torn ACLs were considered career-threatening injury. Caldwell said studies show players sustaining an ACL before the age of 26 typically return to pre-injury form, so the long term tells you Fowler will someday very much be the player the Jaguars drafted.
It's the short term that hurts right now, because the short term seems so raw, so difficult … and yes, so unfair. If you sifted through the emotions of Jaguars fans Friday and Saturday, that was the one that stood out. Just when the franchise seemed on the verge of good things ...
Just when the national media praises what seems a very good draft class …
Just when the franchise drafts a player many believed the best player in the draft, he gets hurt on Minicamp Day One doing little out of the ordinary at all.
That's how it feels right now. This was a gut punch, no doubt, and it's a tough one to digest in a day or two. A gut reaction of "here we go again" is understandable and perhaps even expected.
The guess here is that feeling won't last. Nor should it. Rookie minicamp ended Saturday. What won't end is the Jaguars' 2015 season. Fowler, while a potentially important player, is just one player. There were and are bigger storylines and bigger keys to this season. Blake Bortles. A front-line free agent class. An improved offensive line. A deep draft class.
All still matter. All are important. All give this team a chance to improve with or without the first-round draft selection.
Those things didn't end Friday. All that ended was the first-rounder's first season. Over? Already? Unreal? Unthinkable? Yes, yes, yes and yes, but not the end of the Jaguars' season.
Just a story no one wanted to tell.
Images from the second day of the Jaguars rookie minicamp.