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Dante Fowler Jr. ready to meet expectations with intensity in 2020

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It was 2012 when Dante Fowler Jr. and Todd Gurley faced each other on a football field for the first time. Not yet pros and still a couple of years away from entering the NFL Draft conversation, Fowler and Gurley were gearing up for the annual Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, Fla., as freshmen just looking for something to prove.

Fowler remembers that first game against his now friend quite clearly. He remembers it because Gurley racked up 118 rushing yards. Or as Fowler put it, “He literally ran all over us.”

The next year, Fowler was starting for the Gators and stood in the way of any success Gurley garnered that day.

“I didn’t take it easily what he did to us the last year,” Fowler remembered feeling. “So, I was on him super hard.”

Fowler had six tackles that day. He said one of them actually ended in a heated moment with Gurley, which makes sense considering Gurley caught a 73-yard touchdown pass and was well on his way to another 100-yard day on the ground, too. He had been a thorn in the Gators’ side for two years now.

“We kind of got into a little scuffle in a pile-up,” Fowler said with a laugh. “I had tackled him, and we were fighting a little bit.”

Fast forward to 2020, and the two can’t say enough good things about each other.

“I’m smiling behind this mask because that’s my guy …” Gurley said during his media availability Monday (the same day that he shares a birthday with Fowler, funny enough). “He has always been a good teammate, always been a good guy and a great competitor, too.”

Some 24 hours later, Fowler spoke to his relationship with Gurley relaying memories of Georgia-Florida days past (note: Fowler will call it Florida-Georgia whereas Gurley calls it Georgia-Florida, and if you have any familiarity with the rivalry, you know why). Fowler said he has come up through football with Gurley. They were in the same draft class. They’ve been teammates with the Los Angeles Rams, and now they’re together once more after being picked up by the Falcons this offseason. He said simply, “It’s crazy how the world works.”

Truth be told, the Falcons needed them together again in 2020 and need a lot out of them individually: specifically, more rushing yards from Gurley and 2019’s sack count from Fowler. Rushing yards and sacks were areas the Falcons significantly lacked last year having Devonta Freeman only average 3.6 yards per rush and the defense earning just the second-fewest sacks in the NFL.

While the Falcons are still figuring out Gurley’s workload this training camp, the same time period for Fowler will be spent going full speed. In fact, the defensive end said things have been moving at an incredibly fast pace the past few days as the team is finally able to get off Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls and out on the field.

“They are kind of drilling on us, putting the pressure on us to really know everything because we have to be on top of our stuff,” Fowler said. “We don’t have time to try to teach everything because that’s stuff we’ve already been through in virtual meetings. Now that we’re here we will probably do a virtual meeting the night before, and then that next day, we are going to walk right through at 8 o’clock in the morning.”

Time is of the essence right now for Fowler and the defense. The good news for Fowler is that the Falcons’ staff has a clear plan laid out for him.

There were some who assumed Fowler’s role with the Falcons would look similar to the way Jacksonville used him, but Fowler said the Falcons are planning to use him more in the ways Los Angeles did.

“They let me stand up and put my hand in the dirt,” Fowler said of his time with the Rams. “In Jacksonville, I just had my hand in the dirt the whole time. So, I’ll be able to stand up, move around sometimes, but they’ll also let me put my hand in the dirt and pin my ears back.”

Fowler seems to prefer that style of play. He said by allowing him to play that way, the Rams’ coaching staff put him in the right situations to thrive.

“They weren’t stubborn; whatever they could do to get sacks and make the team better, that’s what they did,” he said.

And Fowler likely would be the first to say he blossomed last year as he was really able to dig his feet in for the first time as a pro. He led the Rams with 11.5 sacks, and his 19 tackles for loss were nothing to ignore. It was the first time many felt he lived up to his first-round draft pick status. And maybe even Fowler would agree.

After five years in the league, Fowler joked that he likes to say last year was actually his rookie year since it was his first year as a starter, wiping away his first couple of years in the league. He’s not naive to the fact that those early years didn’t go as planned. But as he looks back, he explains if he was going to have setbacks, he would rather have them happen early because he has been able to grow from them.

“I’m ready to be a pro for another 10 years,” he said.

The expectation for Fowler has always been high, and he finally reached those heights in 2019. As 2020’s season draws near, there’s a new set of expectations for Fowler: mainly that he repeats the success he had in 2019. This uptick in sacks and pass rush ability is something the Falcons need, and it’s something they spent good money on Fowler to get.

He said he still has work to do, trying to sharpen his knife every day, but as he looks ahead to 2020, maybe he looks at it in the same way he looked at that 2013 Georgia-Florida game against Gurley — with a little more intensity.

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

One of those boys just happens to be Gurley, again.


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13 hours ago, PriMeTiiMe said:

10+ is needed. Since Abe left, The only 10+ Sack season we have had was the fluke Vic year in 2016. Thats 1 out of 7 years... 🤮

Idk man TD just can’t find a pass rusher. I know it’s a tough job but you’d think surely to goodness he’d stumble into a pass rusher sooner or later.

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