Spring Recap: The Defensive Line
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.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE/NOSE GUARD