JACKSONVILLE — The arrival of Dante Fowler to the NFL was delayed a full year, by a torn ACL in his very first practice with the Jaguars, 15 months ago.
But in two joint practices this week, the Bucs got a sneak preview of the former Lakewood High and Gators star's potential as a pass-rusher. And also a reminder of the defensive end's youth, as he was kicked out of practice after fighting with Bucs guard Ali Marpet.
"He's a great pass-rusher. Still young, still a little wild," said Jaguars defensive end Malik Jackson, signed away from the Super Bowl champion Broncos with a $90 million contract in the spring. "His chippiness, he's shown me a lot of want-to, a lot of drive to really make things happen. He definitely has the upside, the speed, power and the brains to play a long time."
Reining in Fowler is a challenge for Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who had set ground rules with Bucs coach Dirk Koetter for the joint practices, rules that were respected well by both teams, for the most part.
"Our deal was no fighting, no swinging, no anything like that," Bradley said after Thursday's practice. "It's just controlling that. You want to play at a frenzy. … It's finding that place where you're playing at a high level, high intensity, but within the rules."
Last week's preseason opener against the Jets marked Fowler's first time back in a game since his injury — he started at defensive end and played just 10 snaps before the first-teamers were pulled, with no tackles. He will get another chance Saturday night against the Bucs, playing at home at EverBank Field for the first time.
"It felt good, that anticipation of getting back out there, the jitterbugs and being so hyped, being able to let it all out," Fowler said after the Jets game. "The trials and tribulations I went through. It felt good to let it all out and see the moment was real and I was actually out there playing again. That felt good."
Thursday's fight isn't the first in which he's made headlines for this year. In February, TMZ posted a video that showed him watching and not trying to intervene as two women, including the mother of his child, fought.
Within the Jaguars' locker room, he has built a good reputation among his teammates, who saw the commitment he had in his rehab to getting back to full health and not missing a step before his NFL career could even begin.
"I always kid with him: 'You were lying last year. You didn't have any ACL injury,' " said Jaguars defensive end Chris Smith, at 24 two years older than Fowler. "Because he's so elusive, his speed, the way he comes off the ball. He's got some Von Miller flash to him, and I tell him that all the time. His potential, the sky's the limit. We learn from each other and I learn from him."
The Jaguars have an influx of young talent on defense, not only in Fowler making his debut this season, but first-round pick Jalen Ramsey, a cornerback from FSU, and linebacker Myles Jack, a linebacker also coming back from injury. Combine that with a flux of big-dollar free agents signed this spring, and there's reason for optimism for the Jaguars' future, much like Fowler's.
"He's a young guy," Jackson said. "He hasn't shown who he is, but he has a great opportunity to come in here and show everybody a new Dante with a new knee. He wants to show not only us, the players and coaches, but the fans, that we made a great choice getting him No. 1, that he's everything people expected."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.