Yesterday we looked at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive skill positions and who might create some intrigue from those categories. Now, let’s turn our attention to the offensive line and the other side of the ball.
Defensive linemen: Dante Fowler, Jr.
If there’s a man under more pressure to perform this year than Blake Bortles, it has to been luckless defensive end Dante Fowler.
Fowler was drafted with the third overall pick in 2015, a high enough bar to hurdle already. But when he went down on the first day of mini camp with a torn ACL, everyone was ready to assume the worst of Fowler — that by being drafted by the Jaguars, his career was already ruined.
Nevertheless, Fowler returned for his rookie season last year, and did not set the world on fire — four sacks and 39 pressures on 276 pass rush snaps, and a whole lot of penalties given away, was not exactly what Jacksonville was after.
I don’t think anybody thought they’d seen the best of the Florida product, but Fowler certainly wasn’t about to hide away from expectations.
Talking to GridironNow.com, Fowler said, “I think it will happen,” when questioned of a breakout season in 2017-18.
“It was a big learning experience for me last year on and off the field. I was like a freshman in college all over again, getting used to guys at this level. I was able to get in the film room and see the opportunities I missed last year. Learning what to do and what not to do — that was a big thing.”
Fowler also noted that he was getting into shape — the best of his life — as well as regaining the explosiveness in his knee. But head coach Doug Marrone says the Florida native cannot just be a great athlete, and he’s right.
“We know he’s a great athlete, but I’m starting to see discipline. I’m starting to see the daily basics. I’m starting to see the hard work he’s putting in, and off the field, what people can’t see, is starting to carry over on the field.”
Notable pass rushers that have made the jump in Year 2 include JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, and Vic Beasley. They all averaged similar sack totals to Fowler in their rookie campaign.
But Fowler believes in himself. Are we about to see the start of something special? Potentially.
Linebackers: Myles Jack
Myles Jack has a lot of responsibility on his hands this year.
Once rated a top-five talent in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jack fell all the way into the Jaguars’ lap in the second round, due mostly to a degenerative knee issue.
But after a rookie campaign in which he was used sparingly, in an unfamiliar position on the strong side, Jack has since been shifted to the middle, and now shoulders the accountability of the entire defense in his 21-year-old hands.
There’s plenty to like about Jack — after all, there was a reason he was rated as highly as he was. He’s one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL, and to boot, he’s a very strong tackler, which is a fantastic asset for a player of his age.
“He looks unbelievable,” said Paul Posluzny, who has been the Jaguars’ starting middle linebacker for the past six seasons. “He’s done a great job of taking command of the huddle and leading the defense from a communication perspective. We all know physically he has all the gifts. He has all the talent to make the plays on the field.”
His positional swap with Posluzny has seen the two grow even closer as they grow into their new roles, helping each other out where they need it.
It’s a lot to ask of a very raw NFL talent, but then again, that’s nothing new in Jacksonville.
Defensive backs: A.J. Bouye
A lot of players could’ve fit into this defensive back pressure cooker category, but I’m firmly pointing the finger at new cornerback A.J. Bouye as the man in the spotlight.
However, Bouye recently flipped the middle finger to that attention. He said he was getting a good feel for the Jaguars’ secondary — and of the spotlight? He didn’t care for or about it.
“I don’t really care about the spotlight. At the end of the day, I try to gain respect from everybody else … I don’t really need [the spotlight] just because I know what I’m capable of and what I’ve done.”
But like it or hate it, it’s going to be there for Bouye. After all, Bouye just became one of the top five highest paid cornerbacks in the League, joining a club with Josh Norman, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Desmond Trufant.
To boot, there are already articles on ESPN naming the Central Florida product as one half of potentially the NFL’s best cornerback duo, alongside sophomore Jalen Ramsey, who also could’ve easily fit this category.
So, there’s definitely the external pressure there, whether Bouye likes it or not. But at the end of the day, none of this matters. All that really matters is how the former Houston Texans deals with that pressure.
The Jacksonville defense has, for a few years now, been vaunted as one of the top talented defenses in the NFL. So far, they’ve failed to really live up to the potential so many give them.
But if the front seven can do their job, anything’s possible.