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Fowler-Jaguars marriage was in the stars

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JACKSONVILLE — Was it an astrological sign that Dante Fowler and the Jacksonville Jaguars would be a good match for each other?

Fowler’s astrological sign is Leo (birthday Aug. 3). The Jaguars desperately wanted to upgrade their Leo position that is currently manned by 33-year-old starter Chris Clemons and backed by mediocre reserves Andre Branch and Ryan Davis. Granted the Jaguars had 45 sacks last year, an improvement in recent years, but the coaching staff felt that adding more firepower to the line was essential.

Fowler first predicted that he would be drafted by the Jaguars as far back as Florida’s Pro Day last month when he all but predicted he would be the first player to walk across the stage and give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell the mandatory hug. Fowler did just that as the first two picks in the draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota both chose to watch the draft activities with their families at home.

That gave Fowler the stage and he made the most of his opportunity, starting with his wardrobe. He wore a white tuxedo with red trim and added a pair of glittering gold shoes. His outfit was the subject of as many questions as his thoughts about going that high in the selection process to the Jaguars.

Two days later, Fowler was in Jacksonville, much more conservatively dressed.

“I’m into fashion and things like that. I see types of suits and I watch what the football players coming in, the basketball players coming into the locker room,” Fowler said. “I know you have to dress up so I try to take some pointers for those guys and try to put my little taste in it. That’s where all white came from.

“Dressing like I did (on Thursday) is something I always dreamed about as a kid growing up. I just wanted to cherish the moment and remember it for the rest of my life. It was a day I’ll never forget.”

If Fowler’s style points on the football field are as good as his appearance off it, Jaguars fans will also never forget the day Fowler made his red-carpet entree into the league.

–The Jaguars haven’t drafted many running backs, taking 11 such backs (not counting fullbacks). But of that group, only four runners were taken in the first three rounds. All four of them had good careers with the Jaguars with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew finishing their careers as the first and second all-time rushing leaders in franchise history.

The Jaguars are hopeful that they found another elite runner with T.J. Yeldon. The former Alabama standout was the No. 36 overall pick in the draft. Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said the team had Yeldon ranked as the third best running back in the draft, behind only Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.

Once the latter two went in the first round, Caldwell said the Jaguars zeroed in on Yeldon as “there was a little bit of a drop-off after that.”

“We felt to get one of those top three guys that we had (ranked that high), would be a win for us,” Caldwell said.

In a bit of irony, Jones made the Jaguars’ announcement in Chicago of Yeldon as their second-round pick. Yeldon may be wishing he had someone of Jones’ stature in the backfield with him but that won’t happen.

After Jones was selected in the 2004 draft, he became a fullback where he was a starter for the Jaguars through the 2012 season. But Caldwell had stated earlier that the Jaguars will join 10 other NFL teams who will not have a fullback on their roster in 2015.

But with Yeldon’s skills, he may not need a lot of blocking help.

“He has great vision, really, really great instincts, great anticipation,” Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said. “Sometimes when you run zone schemes and gap schemes, you really need to have a guy that knows when to hit it and have patience to let things develop in front of him. That’s what you have in him, tremendous instincts. It showed up repeatedly.”

If Yeldon does have a fault, it might be an inability to secure the football. He fumbled 10 times in his three-year career, losing it seven times. But most came in his first two years as he fumbled just twice, losing one, during his final season in 2014.

Yeldon knows he still has work to do in that area.

“People say ball security but I worked on that,” Yeldon said when asked what he needs to improve on at the next level. “I wasn’t really focused and wasn’t holding onto the ball. I did better this year with ball security.”

–A year ago, the Jaguars struggled along the offensive line. They allowed 71 sacks. Only one other NFL team (Washington) allowed more than 52. The Jaguars rushed for just over 102 yards per game. Only a handful of teams had a lower rushing average.

Many attributed the high sack, low rushing total to the Jaguars’ youthful look along the front line. Two rookie starters and two other starters with two years’ experience made this one of the most inexperienced lines in the league. Many gave the Jags’ line a pass because of the youth movement, saying the line will do nothing but improve in the years ahead.

But heading into the 2015 season, the Jaguars could be looking at three new starters in the line. The first acquisition was right tackle Jermey Parnell who was signed in free agency. He’s all but a lock to nail down the starting job at right tackle where the Jaguars have used a revolving door in trying to find someone to fill that spot.

Center Stefen Wisniewski was the next to join the fold. The four-year starter in Oakland signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars and then declared that he planned to be a starter, probably at center, for the coming season.

The interior of the line then took on another contender for a starting spot when A.J. Cann of South Carolina was picked by the Jaguars in the third round. With Luke Joeckel and Parnell likely to have locked down the two outside positions, that leaves a five-man battle for the three inside spots. And that includes veteran Zane Beadles who a year ago signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Jaguars.

To have the luxury of five potential starters competing for three positions is a far cry from the status of the offensive line just two years ago before the arrival of general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley. Those were the days when the Jaguars would sign a free-agent castoff during the week and start him on Sunday.

Not any more with the quality of players being assembled along the line.

“We feel like last year was some pretty good competition. Some of the young guys went out and played pretty well early, like Luke Bowanko and some of those other guys there, Brandon Linder. Now it’s real. Now we have 10, 11 guys in there. It’s going to be a good deal.

“It’s a pretty versatile line with the athleticism and the power of a guy like A.J. or Brandon Linder. Those guys can play in any scheme. Jermey Parnell can play in any scheme. It’s going to give us some flexibility where we can run some gap principles and some zone principles.”

A closer look at the Jaguars’ picks:

Round 1/3 – Dante Fowler Jr., LB, 6-3, 260, Florida

While many thought the Jaguars would opt for Leonard Williams or Amari Cooper, they locked in on Fowler six days before the draft and never wavered. They love his athleticism, his size, his speed and most important, a motor that never stops. They are convinced he’ll be a standout at the LEO position because of his size, strength and explosive play-making ability. His versatility is going to allow him to line up in various positions and cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks, much like he did at Florida.

Round 2/36 – T.J. Yeldon, RB, 6-1, 226, Alabama

Yeldon was the third best running back on the Jaguars’ draft board and once Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were gone in the first round, Yeldon became a must-get at the top of the second round. The Jaguars feel he can be the foundation to their running game. He has the skills to be a three-down back, has solid pass-catching talents and at 226 is capable of protecting quarterback Blake Bortles when needed. He has the speed (4.61 in the 40) and durability (rushed 576 times for 3,322 yards and 37 TDs in 39 career games) at Alabama. With an upgrade on the offensive line, Yeldon’s addition is a significant boost to the Jaguars’ running game.

Round 3/67 — A.J. Cann, G, 6-3, 313, South Carolina

The pick may have surprised some since the Jaguars definitely need to upgrade at linebacker and wide receiver still. But they are intent on making sure last year’s sack total of 71, easily the highest in the league, is reduced drastically. Cann’s addition strengthens an offensive line that was previously addressed in free agency. It leaves the Jaguars with five potential starters at the three interior positions on the line, the first time in ages that this much quality depth exists on the O-line. Cann’s first-team selection as an All-SEC guard and a second-team All-America as a senior is an indication he’s ready to play at the next level.

Round 4/104 — James Sample, S, 6-2, 209, Louisville

The Jaguars picking Sample in the fourth round is an indication they are not totally convinced that they resolved their deficiency at the free safety spot when they signed free agent Sergio Brown in March. After all, while Brown has been in the league for five years, he only has 11 career starts, hardly an endorsing sign that he’s the answer to replace Josh Evans as the starter. Sample gives the Jaguars another option for the spot. He has the size the team covets in a free safety and is known for his ability to level opposing receivers. Sample also has the skills to be a solid contributor on special teams.

Round 5/139 — Rashad Greene, WR, 6-0, 182, Florida State

Everyone knew the Jaguars would draft another receiver, it was just a matter of who and when. It came in the fifth round and was former FSU standout Greene who had 270 catches for 3,830 yards and 29 scores in his 51 games for the Seminoles. What makes Greene so attractive is that he can easily move inside to the slot receiver spot, enabling the Jaguars to keep their three talented rookies from a year ago (Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns) on the outside. Greene doesn’t have the fastest speed, but his route-running and ability to catch the ball over the middle were exceptional at Florida State.

Round 6/180 — Michael Bennett, DT, 6-2, 293, Ohio State

The Jaguars’ belief is that you can never have enough good defensive linemen. That’s why they latched onto Bennett in the sixth round, several rounds after where the Buckeyes standout was projected to go. One of the reasons for the fall is that Bennett is limited to playing a three-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Teams who play a 3-4 probably didn’t give him much of a look. But he’ll fit into the Jaguars’ defensive front just fine, which is why general manager Dave Caldwell made him the first interior defensive lineman selection in his three-year tenure with the Jaguars. Bennett brings some smarts with him to the Jaguars. One report said he scored a 43 on the 50-question Wonderlic test.

Round 7/220 — Neal Sterling, WR, 6-4, 235, Monmouth

The Jaguars added some size to their receiving corps when they picked Sterling in the seventh round. Whether he gained enough experience playing at a school like Monmouth and is prepared to play at the next level remains to be seen. If can make the adaptation, it will give the Jaguars a big target. Sterling had 212 catches for 2,612 yards and 22 scores in his career, but was not invited to the Combine.

Round 7/229 — Ben Koyack, TE, 6-5, 255, Notre Dame

The Jaguars got a good look at Koyack during the week leading up to the Senior Bowl. The Jaguars’ coaching staff coached the South team and even though Koyack played on the opposing North squad, it still enabled the team’s coaching staff to get a good look at him and talk with him. Koyack doesn’t have flashy numbers (44 catches for 532 yards, five TDs in 40 games with the Irish), but he could be a contributor with special teams and could fill a need should the Jaguars experience injuries at the tight end spot like they did a year ago.


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