Defensive line depth an issue in spring


Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.

One of Florida's goals is to get bigger and stronger on the defensive line. Instead, the Gators have gotten skinnier this spring. Not in terms of girth, but in depth.

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Florida defensive lineman Ronald Powell was named the defensive player of the game in Saturday's scrimmage. (Photo courtesy of UF Communications)

In the first major scrimmage this past Saturday, the Gators were pretty much one-deep in scholarship players on the defensive line.

“It's very tough,” senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said Tuesday. “We have a lot more snaps than we normally have. The rotation is not as strong. But the guys that we do have are going harder in practice and everyone is getting better.”

In Saturday's scrimmage, everyone on the defensive line would have been all of six players — Hunter, Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell, Damien Jacobs, Gideon Ajagbe and former offensive lineman Nick Alajajian.

Two starters — tackle Dominique Easley and Lerentee McCray — are out for the spring, along with back-up end Kedric Johnson. Added to the injury list heading into the scrimmage were Earl Okine and Leon Orr.

Okine is out for the remainder of the spring with an injured back. Orr returned Monday. Still, the Gators barely have enough healthy defensive linemen to get through practices.

Hunter sees the bright side.

“I think anytime you have a chance to get more snaps, it's beneficial to you,” he said. “I feel I've gotten a little better on some techniques, some things I was struggling with last year as far as pass rushing. More snaps I have going against the (No. 1 offensive line) has definitely benefited me.”

Muschamp expressed a measure of disappointment in the performance of the defensive line in the scrimmage.

“We didn't play as well as I thought we should,” he said.

But this should look like a very different defensive line in the fall with the return of the injured players, especially Easley and McCray.

“Obviously, Dominique's out and Lerentee's not going through spring, so we need more numbers and guys in there that can play and guys you can count on,” Muschamp said.

One guy the Gators apparently can count on now up front is Powell, the Buck end/linebacker who struggled with consistency last fall, and as a result was not the playmaker everyone thought he could be.

By all accounts, Powell has elevated his game this spring. He was named the defensive player of the game in Saturday's scrimmage and drew considerable praise from Muschamp earlier this week.

Hunter said he's seen a major change in Powell over the past few months.

“He's probably had the best offseason I've seen from anyone since I've been here,” said Hunter, a fifth-year senior. “He's worked so hard this offseason and it's really paying off right now.

“He's just more mature, on the field and off. On the field, his pass rushing is unbelievable right now. And he's so stout against the run. He's really looking good for us right now.”

Two players who are still in the developmental stage are Orr and Jacobs, a junior college transfer who is adapting to SEC-style football this spring.

“Damien is coming in and learning a new scheme and the pace of SEC football,” Hunter said. “I think he's adjusting well to it.”

Muschamp said the big thing with Jacobs right now is improving his inconsistency. Orr is pretty much in the same position.

“Leon has changed his whole body around (in terms of strength and build),” Hunter said. “He's coming day-by-day. By the time the season starts, he'll be ready.”

The same probably could be said of the defensive line.

“It has a chance to be (a very good defensive line if everyone is healthy),” Hunter said. “With guys like Easley and Lerentee coming back, I think we've got a chance to be up there with the '08 defensive line (that helped the Gators win the national title).”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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