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Although he lacked the proper weight to hold up against the run or thrive as a pass rusher earlier in his career, the 6-foot-6 Alex McCalister and his 7-foot-2 wingspan have always been a marvel.
His impressive measurables never translated to the field in his first two years in Gainesville, but entering his redshirt sophomore season McCalister may finally be putting it together. Now at 246 pounds - about 40 more than he weighed when he arrived at UF in 2012 - and owning a more polished technique, the BUCK linebacker should be a regular in Florida's defensive line rotation once it kicks off its season against Idaho on Aug. 30.
"Getting that extra weight playing in the 240-250 range is way easier than when I first came in at like 206 when I really couldn't push anything," McCalister said. "Now I can hold the point, push the point back in the pocket with that weight.
"It was the strength and having the right mindset to come back. After the long break we had, to have that mindset in the spring to push forward, set yourself goals, weight, learning more moves, learning more counters, really being a student to the game when I came back from the big break."
McCalister has been a player to receive oodles of praise from the coaching staff in its recent meetings with the media. On Monday, Florida coach Will Muschamp mentioned McCalister's name first when asked if an individual player has impressed him so far in fall camp.
"I think Alex McCalister has done some really nice things," Muschamp said. "I think he's a guy that going in camp, you know, we felt like we were going to have to rep Neiron Ball at Buck just in case with something with Dante (Fowler Jr.). And now we feel pretty comfortable there. He's been a guy that's been a steady performer through camp. He's played the run very well and very pleased with him."
During Florida's final open practices, McCalister found plenty of penetration on the edge against UF's tackles and found multiple opportunities to sack the quarterback if it were a regular season game. When he met with reporters Thursday afternoon, he said his long wingspan has been his biggest advantage when performing power moves to try to shed blocks.
"There's not a lot of people that can stop that, the long arm my pass rush move," he said. "It's because I have a long wingspan, so using that to my advantage, bigger people can do speed and power, quicker people can do footwork, mine is my left I use my left."
To refine his own pass rush moves, McCalister has studied some of the best defensive lineman with long wingspan in the game - the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, specifically. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing, as well as Fowler, have also taught McCalister a thing or two this off-season about how to do well in the role.
"Simple stuff - coming out my hips, striking, using your helmet - just every little thing. Coach Lawing knows it all," McCalister said. "He's a pretty good, old guy.
"Dante showed me a lot of stuff. I've showed Dante some stuff. That's my roommate. So that's like my boy. So just being with Dante and like being able to watch film with him, he sees more stuff then I see because he's been out there longer than me. He'll shoot something down to me so it's like learning experience from Old 6."