Dante Fowler has right attitude in road to recovery from ACL tear

BY foxsports • May 9, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Talk about deflating.

By no means had the Jacksonville Jaguars made headlines this week on a national level of the magnitude that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots did. But there was no question that they did extremely well for themselves over the course of three days during the NFL Draft.

They got a powerful running back from Alabama who should be more Mark Ingram or Eddie Lacy than Trent Richardson. They got more help for their shaky offensive line and secondary. They got a late-round find at wide receiver with the potential to develop into the trusted option Blake Bortles needs, similar to what Antonio Brown has become for Ben Roethlisberger and Julian Edelman has become for Brady.

Best of all, they drafted a defensive end who should provide a lethal pass rush for years to come.

Dante Fowler Jr. might still do just that. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the year when he emerges as a feared force will be no sooner than 2016.

An hour into the first on-field session of rookie minicamp Friday, Fowler's left knee buckled and the stomachs of the Jaguars sank. Barely a week after the former Florida standout with the heavy hands and the light heart went third overall, everyone from the front office to the coaching staff to the marketing department was forced to contemplate a season without him.

Someone with no history of serious injuries goes down with a prognosis of months of rehabilitation ahead. That can only happen to the Jaguars, right?

Not quite.

Yes, the memory of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks being carted off in the final game of last season with a similar ACL injury is still fresh in people's minds. And from Maurice Jones-Drew to Marcedes Lewis to Luke Joeckel to Paul Posluszny, the two years since the arrivals of coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell have not been without bad breaks and setbacks.

But it happens to the best of them. That's not just a figure of speech. After all, Brady suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee in the Patriots' 2008 opener.

It also happens to franchises more downtrodden than the Jaguars. In 2006, the Cleveland Browns were convinced they had solidified their offensive line by signing center LeCharles Bentley, a native Clevelander who was coming off a Pro Bowl season with the New Orleans Saints. On the first day of training camp, Bentley got tangled up in a pile of players while run blocking and ruptured his patellar tendon. Not only did he never play again, but he almost died because of a staph infection which got into his knee.

Fowler's road back won't be easy. But he has the right attitude and no shortage of others pulling for him, including one both likely and unlikely. In proof that Gators and Bulldogs can indeed get along, former Georgia running back Todd Gurley -- who tore his ACL in November but nonetheless wound up going 10th in the draft to the St. Louis Rams -- reached out to him to provide motivation.

"I was with him when he was going through his process," Fowler told reporters Saturday  "I saw how hard he worked. That's somebody I'm going to lean on a lot."

Devastating knee injuries to up-and-coming prospects aren't confined to the NFL either. In the NBA, Jabari Parker was beginning to look like the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year until his season ended last December with a torn ACL in his left knee.

And if Fowler wasn't in too much pain Friday night, he could have stayed up to watch Derrick Rose bank in a 3-point shot at the buzzer to give the Chicago Bulls a 2-1 lead in their playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Three years after an ACL injury so severe that it forced him to miss the entire 2012-13 season, the 2011 MVP provided an inspiring moment above and beyond what you've seen in a sports drink commercial.

So there is more than a ray of hope for the Jaguars. It just might hard to see it right now through the dark clouds over their practice facility.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.


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