Fowler was drafted third overall in the 2015 NFL draft by Jacksonville. He is playing for his third team, having earlier been traded by the Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams. He helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl before hitting free agency.
The Falcons signed him to a three-year, $45 million contract in 2020. But they asked him to take an incentive-laden contract that will pay him by the sack in 2021.
“The most I remember about Dante is when he came out of college, he was the prototype, the No. 1 guy in that draft that year,” Monachino said. “When I looked at him, I knew that the league was strange in certain ways, I hoped that I could coach him right away, but at some point in his career, I’d hoped that, and he and I crossed paths.”
In previous NFL coaching stops, Monachino has coached some of the game’s top pass rushers in Tyrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Robert Mathis and Khalil Mack.
“I’m excited to get (Fowler) going,” Monachino said. “Get him here and see how far we get down the road with him. He’s a talented, tough and rugged man. I think once we apply those things to his game on all three downs, I think it’s going to help our defense and help our team.”
Fowler has been joining the virtual meetings.
“Dante is doing exactly what he needs to be doing right now,” Monachino said. “He’s grinding his butt off down there (in Florida). He’s working out. According to him, he’s in great shape and preparing to have a great season.”
Most of the Falcons players voted to opt out of the “voluntary” offseason program, but some will participate in parts two and three of the offseason program. Also, the mandatory minicamp likely is coming in June.
“We’re excited about getting him back in the building,” Monachino said. “Excited about getting them all back as soon as we can so we can get down the road in terms of learning the system. There is going to be some new learning involved. I think that experience that we’ve had in the virtual meetings has been great. I think we’ll be ready to start. … We’ll hit the ground running when they do get back.”
Rookie Ade Ogundeji, a fifth-round pick from Notre Dame, also will start out playing outside linebacker.
“Physically he can do all of those things we asked those guys to do,” Monachino said. “I know he loves football. You can tell that by how he plays on tape. We’re excited to get him in here. I think he’s going to look great in black and red. I know he’s going to fit right in.”
Along with Fowler, former defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner is moving to outside linebacker.
“The beauty of it is, we’re not going to play a ton of snaps in base defense where we’ve got outside linebackers in the game just based on what we see across the league now,” Monachino said. “When we do play those, yes, he’s going to be in my group. When we don’t and when we are in some of our sub packages, he’ll be a defensive end that moves around and does some different things.”
Tuioti-Mariner, a player who wasn’t drafted, had a breakthrough game last season against the Las Vegas Raiders.
“Watching him on tape, he’s got great football character,” Monachino said. “He plays like a smart, tough, effort-full football player, and (those) are the kind of guys we are looking for.
Monachino hopes to get the pass rush going and will share tips from Suggs and his former top-level pass rushers.
“All of those guys had a feel for one another, so they rushed side by side well,” Monachino said. “The guys that I’ve had that have worked on the outside on the edges, it was all about effort and violence with those guys. Being able to finish at the top of the pocket leads to productive rushes.
“Every guy that I’ve coached that’s had great success has had those things.”
Falcons inside linebackers coach Frank Bush knows that middle linebacker Deion Jones also will help in the pass rush.
“He brings speed and a lot of different things to the table,” Bush said. “We plan on using him in a lot of different ways. … At the end of the day, we’re going to try to utilize his skill set. Let him cover. Let him blitz. Let him do a lot of different things. I think he fits right into what we are trying to get done here.”