Dante Fowler Jr. Recognizes Expectations And Plans To Fulfill Them

Chris Vinel

Dante Fowler Jr. likes to tell people he was a rookie in 2019 — which is odd considering it was actually his fourth year in the NFL.

Playing for the Los Angeles Rams last season, Fowler Jr. appeared in all 16 games, starting 14 and rushing right past his previous career highs. He set personal bests in tackles (58), tackles for loss (16) and sacks (11.5).

Most importantly, and the reason he joked about being a first-year player, he solidified himself as a starter for the first time.

“I wasn’t playing like that in Jacksonville. I never started,” Fowler Jr. said Tuesday during media availability at the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp. “I went to L.A. and took them to a Super Bowl. Next year, I got double-digit sacks. Literally, last year was my first year starting, so I like to say I was a rookie last year.”

FOWLER JR.'S PAST

Fowler Jr. joined the startling lineup for only one game in two and a half seasons with the Jaguars. They shipped him to the Rams midway through the 2018 regular season, and he started several games for Los Angeles on its way to a Super Bowl loss to New England.

“(I just try to) make the most of my opportunities and never take what (I) have for granted,” Fowler Jr. said. “That’s something I did in Jacksonville, and I had to learn from that. It took me a long time. I was finally able to get a second chance, and I never looked back. I just took it and ran with it.”

Now, he brings all of his former first-round-draft-pick talent to Atlanta on a three-year, $48-million contract. And there’s no question mark.

He will receive opportunities, and he will start games.

FOWLER JR.'S ADJUSTMENT TO ATLANTA

The 26-year-old replaces Vic Beasley as the Falcons’ No. 1 pass rusher. They’re relying on Fowler Jr. to fix a unit that finished last season with 28 sacks, tied for second-lowest in the league.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a weird offseason for Fowler Jr. to adapt to a new team. He does hold an advantage over most of Atlanta’s newcomers, though, because he played for the Falcons’ head coach, Dan Quinn, while both were at the University of Florida in 2012.

Quinn still runs a similar defense, and it will allow Fowler Jr. to use his athleticism and versatility the way he did with the Rams the last two years.

“I don’t think it’s a familiar scheme in Jacksonville,” Fowler Jr. said, trying to find similarities between Atlanta’s playbook and the ones he’s learned in the past. “I would probably say Los Angeles, where they let me stand up and let me put my hand in the dirt. ’Cause in Jacksonville, I just had my hand in the dirt the whole time. So it let me be able to stand up, move around sometimes, and they also let me put my hand in the dirt and pin my ears back.”

Though Fowler Jr. will line up with talented players like Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson and Takk McKinley, he’s the go-to guy. He doesn’t have the “Sacksonville” group with the Jaguars or the monster, Aaron Donald, in Los Angeles to defer to anymore. He recognizes “rookie” excuses no longer apply to him.

“I feel good. I know what my expectations are,” Fowler Jr. said. “I know what I’m going to do, and I’m just ready to ride with my boys.”

CATCH UP ON A BUSY MORNING AT THE FALCON REPORT!

Chris Vinel on Qadree Ollison's 'Why': https://www.si.com/nfl/falcons/news/atlanta-falcons-news-qadree-ollison-lerowne-harris-murder-football-why-2020

Anthony Covington on the chances the 2020 NFL Season makes it through COVID-19: https://www.si.com/nfl/falcons/news/atlanta-falcons-news-opinion-nfl-wont-make-it-through-2020-season

Dave Holcomb on tomorrow afternoon's NFL opt-out deadline: https://www.si.com/nfl/falcons/films/atlanta-falcons-news-coronavirus-nfl-2020-opt-out-august-6th-2020

Three players activated from COVID/Reserve list by Falcons: https://www.si.com/nfl/falcons/news/atlanta-falcons-2020-nfl-season-news-updates-activate-covid-reserve-list-opt-out-deadline-thursday

Malik Brown on a hungry Calvin Ridley: https://www.si.com/nfl/falcons/news/atlanta-falcons-news-calvin-ridley-training-camp-presser-nfl-2020-season

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