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Doug Marrone says Dante Fowler Jr. can’t just be a great athlete

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is going to be a major point of emphasis for not only Jaguars fans, but also coaches, as everyone hopes the former third overall pick can make that next step in his third NFL seasons and be a consistent pass rusher. Fowler missed his first season in the NFL after tearing his ACL on the first day of rookie mini-camp and while looking like an unstoppable dervish in mini-camp and OTAs last offseason, his 2016 was largely disappointing.

A lot of growth is being not only assumed, but expected out of Fowler entering the 2017 season. He’s got a lot of competition at the position with Yannick Ngakoue and third-round pick Dawaune Smoot, but largely most expect Fowler to develop this offseason and cement his place in the lineup.

On Tuesday, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone joined Tony Smith “Fat Tony” of Jaguars Toady on 1010XL to talk about the offseason thus far, and naturally one of the topics that came up was Fowler’s development this offseason and what the coaches are seeing so far.

“I think there is a couple things,” Marrone said when asked if he’s seen the kind of growth from Fowler that they wanted. “You know nutritionally and the weight room, there’s a lot of things off the field you know meaning from that standpoint, you know just straight discipline.”

When listening to the interview I had to rewind it to make sure I didn’t actually fast forward the podcast too far and miss something. I did not, but it’s interesting this is the third time we’ve heard bring things up about off the field stuff, such as weight and nutrition with Fowler. There has been talk that Fowler really needed to mature this past offseason and this could be related to that, as learning how to take care of your body now that you’re a professional athlete is just one step in being a successful NFL player.

“It’s funny, I always look and I go back as a kid growing up, you know the Rucker League in Harlem, I always saw great athletes. I was down there and I saw unbelievable basketball players. I said to myself ‘These guys could play in the NBA, they could play there’ and my friend and I would always say ‘Well why aren’t they playing in the NBA? Why aren’t they playing in college? These guys are unbelievable!’ Just being a great athlete is not going to put you in a position to be a winning type of football player, you need other things,” Marrone continued.

Most of the time Fowler is brought up or talked about, be it with fans or in the media, his athleticism is brought up and how it’s such an asset. As Marrone correctly points out in his childhood anecdote, athleticism can only get you so far. When you make it to the NFL, your athleticism is mitigated because everything filters up. You go from being the best athlete on your high school team, to being the best athlete on a college team, to an NFL team filled with players who were the best athletes on their college teams.

“We know he’s a great athlete, but I’m starting to see the discipline. I’m starting to see the daily basics. I’m starting to see the hard work that he’s putting in. And off the field, what people can’t see is starting to carry over on the field. So I’m excited about the direction we’re heading with him, it’s just a matter of consistency,” Marrone continued about Fowler’s development. “Can we keep this up? Can we keep going in this direction? Obviously that’s our goal, that’s his goal and if he can continue to do that I think we’ll get very good production out of him.”

One of the big criticisms of Fowler is that he has no real rush moves, so if he can’t beat an offensive line off the snap and just run by them, he’s kind of just lost and ineffective on the rush. It’s part of why Marrone’s message is that you cannot just be a great athlete and be good at the NFL level, especially as a pass rusher. It sounds like coupled with a lack of rush moves, the team at some point wasn’t happy with where Fowler was off the field as well. Not necessarily that Fowler was out of shape or getting in trouble, but just that he wasn’t consistently doing what the team expected.

As mentioned before, this is the third time Marrone has brought up the off the field things and consistency with Fowler, unsolicited. Perhaps it’s no longer an issue, or Fowler has improved enough with the things the team was not happy with to where he’s getting to where they want, but it’s clear there have been issues in the past.

According to Marrone, there has been improvement in that area, at least. We won’t know much more about the on-field questions with Fowler until the pads come on and they’re going against some other teams, just like last season when he went from whipping every offensive lineman on the Jaguars roster to completely disappearing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in joint practices.

The Jaguars do have a lot of talent across the defensive line overall, but even with the addition of Calais Campbell and having someone like Ngakoue in the rotation, the Jaguars still lack that pass rusher teams have to worry about. Fowler was drafted to be that guy and the Jaguars really need him to take that first step towards being that guy.

Perhaps we can watch that play out during training camp and the preseason.