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April 19, 2014

Spring Recap: The Defensive Line


SPRING BALL: O&B Debut: Breakdown II | O&B Debut: Breakdown I | Take 5 | Spring Practice Central

With spring camp over, Inside the Gators is taking an all-encompassing look at the Gators after 15 practices by breaking down each position. Today, we take an in-depth look at the defensive line.

Throughout the week, ITG has broken down spring camp by taking a glimpse at each position on Florida's roster after 15 practices. Today, we look at the defensive line.

OVERVIEW: Dante Fowler Jr. seems primed for a breakout season. Then again, that same feeling was there in 2013 but hit a major roadblock when the Gators lost the dominating presence of Dominique Easley inside at tackle. Opponents adjusted and Fowler ended his season with 3.5 sacks. This spring, he looked like the player he expects to be.

The question will once again be if Florida can be effective enough inside to keep teams from focusing too much on Fowler. Darious Cummings and Leon Orr will be part of that task with natural defensive end Jonathan Bullard working inside some as well. Will Muschamp's defense must be disruptive at its core of it is going to have success while sparsely bringing extra pressure.

It's also a matter of whether or not the Gators can find a sufficient second edge rusher in addition to Fowler. The search this spring didn't go entirely well, though a previously undeveloped Alex McCalister gave a glimmer of hope. Finding a second edge presence is key to allowing Bullard to help inside at tackle where he excelled at all spring but it may be difficult to accomplish.

Depth will be the word that matters when fall camp rolls around. Muschamp left spring frustrated with a lack of capable reserved both inside and out. Young players have not developed into role players as of yet and time is winding down before they hurt the overall production of a defense that ideally wants eight linemen for its rotation.

THE STANDOUT: Spring proved Fowler and Vernon Hargreaves III are head and shoulders above just about everyone else on the roster at the moment. It's one of the primary reasons they were not asked to play in the spring game. Fowler has continued to trim weight - cutting out McDonald's was his New Year's resolution - and is even quicker off the line and more athletic laterally because of it. His strength speaks for itself. It will be a surprise if he doesn't get the giant year he has been looking for in 2014.

THE SURPRISE: Bryan Cox Jr. proved to be a player the Gators can trust at defensive end. Cox saw a small role in 2013 but received almost all of the first-team snaps at end throughout spring because of Bullard playing inside. He fared well, maybe not as good overall as the initial hype, but proved to be a Bullard-like player who can run with a steady motor and make plays. Then again, Cox had a solid spring in 2013 as well but was not quite able to translate it to the field consistently. This year will need to be different.

DISAPPOINTING: This was a huge spring for Florida's redshirt freshman defensive tackles. At least one of them needed to step up and show he was ready to be counted upon on fall Saturdays. Jay-nard Bostwick came the closest but that was largely due to past progress that made him stand out as a freshman. Caleb Brantley struggled to give consistent effort and was injured in the spring game. Antonio Riles spent the end of camp at offensive guard. Walk-ons played the majority of the second half of the spring game. Whether it is shaping up what's currently here or taking a gamble with freshmen, Florida has to figure something out depth-wise at defensive tackle.

Jonathan Bullard


Yes, he spent all of fall camp at defensive tackle, but Florida's best chance to get its best four linemen on the field is likely still playing Bullard outside with the exception of nickel pass-rush situations. Credit him for playing well despite moving around.

Bryan Cox Jr.


He proved this spring he can be a starting-caliber defensive end should the Gators decide they like Bullard inside more than Orr. Regardless, he'll play a significant role because of the amount of times Bullard will be shifted in.

Joey Ivie


It might be unfair to judge someone because of off-season hype, but former teammates anointed Ivie the future of the defensive line over the past few months and he didn't appear quite ready to take on that kind of role. Similar to Bullard in that he can play inside and out.

Taven Bryan


The early enrollee from Wyoming has an impressive build for a freshman but had the obvious learning experience of grasping an SEC defense. He could be special once he grasps everything being thrown at him.

Dante Fowler Jr.


Florida's best offensive tackles had difficulty slowing Fowler most of the spring and both had a strong 15 practices. He'll gave tackles trouble all fall as well.
Alex McCalister


Currently, he falls into the category used to wonder aloud if spring success will translate into anything in the fall. McCalister is ready, per the coaches, but only September will show how much he will actually be used.
Jordan Sherit


After being extremely limited during his freshman year because of a lingering injury, it was a positive for Sherit to get substantial work at Buck and outside linebacker. But playing through a hyper extended elbow didn't help his cause.
Darious Cummings


When he was able to practice, Cummings looked great, including one day where he was a disruptive force on seemingly every play. But a family matter kept Cummings out of a large number of practices.
Leon Orr


He was never able to practice this spring while recovering from a fractured wrist. How he performs during fall camp will go a long ways to clear up the position.
Jay-nard Bostwick


His strength is undeniable but Bostwick was never consistent enough with his technique or assignments to impress at defensive tackle. He needs to benefit from extensive off-season work on his fundamentals.
Caleb Brantley


The positive is he's incredibly talented with a high ceiling. The negative was almost everything else during spring. He was a constant target of Brad Lawing and for good reason. Brantley showed signs of the "uncoachable" player who first arrived at UF.
Antonio Riles


He is being graded with the defensive tackles, rather than offensive guards, but the grade is for both positions. He had more success and playing time at the latter, but that was also because of some injuries.


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