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Jaguars optimistic Fowler will bounce back in 2016

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Jacksonville Jaguars first-round draft pick Dante Fowler Jr.’s rookie season lasted less than an hour, but the team is optimistic the defensive end will bounce back from a torn ACL.

Fowler suffered the injury in his left knee during 11-on-11 drills on the first day of the Jaguars’ rookie minicamp Friday and he will miss the 2015 season

Fowler, a pass rusher out of Florida, fell to the ground clutching his left knee. He walked gingerly off the field with the help of two trainers and was quickly carted back into EverBank Field before going to the hospital to be examined by the team’s medical staff.

The 6-foot-3, 261-pounder is facing surgery and rehab that could last 10 months before he can return for the 2016 season. A date for surgery has not yet been set.

“It was just one of them unfortunate things,” Fowler said Saturday. “If I would have never got hurt yesterday, we would have been talking about probably how good I was in practice. I was feeling good.

“It was a great first hour. Hopefully we’re going to have a lot of good years to come.”

Fowler’s optimistic smile and comments were proof of what head coach Gus Bradley said moments before about the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“It’s a tough deal for him to go through,” Bradley said. “I’m very optimistic after a chance to meet with him. His spirit, I see why we drafted him when we did. His spirit, his mindset going into this, I don’t know, I find it hard to be matched. For me, my concern was to know how he’s going to handle it and once I had a chance to visit with him, knowing what he’s going through, and how he’s going to attack this, very optimistic about Dante and how he’s going to do it.

“There’s no doubt in his mind he’s coming back, bigger, stronger and going to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Fowler was injured while rushing the passer when he was engaged with rookie right tackle Watts Dantzler. Fowler’s knee bent awkwardly below him.

Dantzler told the Florida Times-Union that he checked his phone after practice and said he was getting “killed on Twitter.”

“I went to apologize to him (Fowler) and he was like, ‘You’re good, man. It’s just football,'” Dantzler said Friday.

Fowler said Saturday his foot got caught underneath him and he felt his knee pop.

“My weight shifted one way, my foot got caught in the dirt,” Fowler said. “It was a little nasty feeling.

“That’s just the game of football. We were out there practicing. … You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just one of them unfortunate things.

“I just love that the fans were out there and just wanted to show them the type of player they’re going to have soon and just to get out there and play football. I don’t care about the injury. I know what this game comes with. I’m not out there thinking about this. I know I’m risking myself. That’s just the game of football. I put myself in the situation. I signed my name on that dotted line. I knew what I was getting myself into.

“In the future, a year from now, we’ll be all smiling again and talking about me sacking people.”

Bradley said the team plans to have Fowler involved throughout the season. He will attend meetings and will go on road trips once he is cleared.

Fowler is unsigned, but like every draft pick, he signed a waiver earlier this week as protection. He will still get the full amount of his slotted contract figure ($20,737,302), according to the Florida Times-Union.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher took a jab at the Jaguars’ practice procedures.

“I heard he (Fowler) was in an 11-on-11 full-speed pass rush and he had a problem,” Fisher said Saturday. “Our philosophy is not to put them in that position for a couple of weeks until we know where they’re at.”


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