INDIANAPOLIS -- The Jaguars' optimism surrounding the 2016 season is buoyed by the feeling that they have two first-round draft picks. Dante Fowler, their No. 3 overall pick a year ago, missed his entire rookie season with a freak ACL injury he suffered during his first rookie minicamp training session. He was the prospective pass-rushing anchor Gus Bradley's defense needs.
But the one-year mark is coming fast, and by all accounts Fowler is progressing well.
"As far as his treatment and his injury, he's been really, really good," Bradley said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We had him involved quite a bit, as much as we could in meetings and treatment. After the season, he really amped it up. They've been all really, really good numbers and I've been really pleased with how his offseason has gone."
Bradley did not touch on a recent incident involving Fowler. The defensive end surfaced in the news earlier this week after TMZ posted a video that showed him standing over -- and eventually separating -- two women fighting. The NFL said it was reviewing the matter but called the images "disturbing."
"The organization's made a statement and we'll just stand by that," Bradley said. "I know they've had conversations with him and we're here to support him and his family."
Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell later told reporters that he does not expect much to come from the league's investigation into the matter.
Players recovering from similar soft tissue injuries will attest to the fact that Year 2 after an ACL injury is far better than Year 1. There can still be a hesitancy, and the recovered muscles are still vulnerable. Fowler has to balance this against the uphill climb of actively learning a defense and adjusting to a heightened level of competition.
"It is very challenging. Just because you're a first-round pick, the transition of coming from college to the NFL is very difficult so we understand that part of him," Bradley said. "We're looking for continued improvement from him. It will be interesting to see how he comes back in OTAs. I know that short glimpse we saw of him last year in drills, a lot of things we saw on tape. It's always a challenge, but physically his traits and how he's come along -- we're very excited."
Fowler will be a big part of a season with heightened expectations, but those expectations need to be managed. No player should be judged by their draft slot, but especially not a player coming off a serious injury. Bradley will no doubt be looking for supplemental pass rushing help on the market and the Jaguars could even go in that direction once again this draft. The offense showed dramatic improvement a year ago, which can allow for more focus -- financially and otherwise -- into making sure Fowler doesn't have too large of a burden.