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Jaguars optimistic Dante Fowler Jr. will bounce back from ACL tear

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dante Fowler Jr.'s rookie season lasted less than an hour, ending abruptly when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during 11-on-11 drills in the first day of the Jacksonville Jaguars' rookie minicamp.

The 6-foot-3, 261-pound defensive end is facing surgery and a grueling rehab that could last 10 months. It'll be the first time in his football career he'll miss a game because of injury.

And yet he stood at a podium on Saturday morning with a big smile on his face.

"It was just one of them unfortunate things," Fowler said. "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 smile and comments were proof of what head coach Gus Bradley had said moments before, when he stood at the same podium and raved about Fowler's attitude.

"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 in 11-on-11 drills. He was engaged with right tackle Watts Dantzler and his foot got caught underneath him and he felt his knee pop.

"My weight shifted one way, my foot got caught in the dirt," said Fowler, who was selected by the Jaguars with the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft. "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."

The injury certainly is unfortunate for the Jaguars, who won't have the player that many draft analysts ranked as the best edge rusher in the draft. The Jaguars were counting on Fowler to be the elite rusher the team hasn't had since defensive end Tony Brackens (1999-2003) and improve a pass rush that ranked sixth in the NFL in 2014 (45 sacks).

Fowler was expected to split reps with Chris Clemons, who turns 34 in October, early in the season and be playing the bulk of the snaps by the end. Bradley said the Jaguars will use a combination of the other pass-rushing defensive ends on the roster -- specifically Andre Branch, Ryan Davis and Chris Smith -- to help overcome Fowler's absence. He also said the team will explore adding a free agent as well as other options.

Bradley also said the team plans on keeping Fowler involved throughout the season. He'll attend meetings and will go on road trips once he is cleared. A date for surgery has not yet been set.

Fowler said his only disappointment with the injury is that he won't be able to show everyone the kind of player he is until next season.

"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," he said. "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."