They may lack the big-name, like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, but as a group this could potentially be the best defensive line the Florida Gators have had in years.
The pass rush will receive a much-needed boost this season as the group looks to improve upon the 30 sacks the team had in 2012.
With the anticipated return of hybrid linebacker/defensive end Ronald Powell, the development of sophomore’s Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard and Dominique Easley’s move to defensive tackle, the Gators could have their best group of pass-rushers in recent memory.
Powell, a redshirt junior who missed last season after tearing his ACL in the spring game, came to Florida as the top recruit in the nation in 2010. The 6-4, 240 pound hybrid linebacker/defensive end, a position known as the buck, recorded six sacks as a sophomore in 2011. If he can return to the level he was at before the injury it is not unreasonable to expect double-digit sacks from him this season as he looks to fulfill the promise that comes from being a top recruit.
Although no team ever wants to be without its best pass-rusher, Powell’s injury could be looked at as a blessing in disguise because it forced the Gators to rely on true freshmen Fowler and Bullard.
Fowler, a hybrid player like Powell, and Bullard, a defensive end, were able to gain valuable experience last season. The 6-3, 260 pound Fowler was able to rack up 30 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last season. Bullard totaled 27 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Both players were named to the SEC All-Freshman team. After their success last season, both players will look to build upon that as they step into larger roles in the defense.
An interesting wrinkle in the Gators’ pass rush is senior Dominique Easley. After spurning an opportunity to jump to the NFL, Easley was expected to return to his role as one of the team’s starting defensive ends. However, due to a lack of depth at tackle, the 6-2, 285 pound Easley will start at defensive tackle this season. He has 5.5 career sacks.
The move should offer the team some versatility as it looks to get the best rotation of players on the field.
With such a deep and talented group of players up front, the Gators’ pass rush could resemble the glory days when the likes of Derrick Harvey, Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham were wrecking havoc on opposing backfields.