Quinn looks for aggression from defense


Published: Friday, August 24, 2012 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 10:31 p.m.

Like most coaches, Dan Quinn took time to evaluate his first season as Florida's defensive coordinator.

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Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be looking towards linebacker Neiron Ball to come up big for the defense this season. Ball sat out last season with a vascular condition.

Doug Finger/ Staff photographer/ FILE

One of Quinn's regrets? The Gators weren't aggressive enough going after the quarterbacks.

“It's kind of in my nature to play an aggressive and up-front style where we can pressure and affect the QB that way,” Quinn said. “So at times I wish I had more last year, and certainly we had it in the package and I'd like to see us play that style.”

The Gators finished 2011 sixth in the Southeastern Conference with 28 sacks. To make the jump to an elite pass-rushing team in the league will take more than increase in blitz calls. It will take improved pressure from the four-man rush as well.

Quinn has been evaluating the one-on-one matchups between defensive linemen and offensive linemen in camp. He's confident that the Gators can get to the quarterback more often in 2012, even without their best pass-rusher early in the season. Junior defensive end Ronald Powell, who led UF with six sacks last season, will miss at least the first month of the season while recovering from a torn ACL.

With Powell out, senior Lerentee McCray has moved to start in the hybrid “buck” position, which lines up as an outside linebacker on 3-4 schemes and a defensive end on 4-3 schemes. Quinn also has been impressed with the pass-rushing ability of true freshman Dante Fowler and sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, who sat out last season with a vascular condition.

“I'm anxious to see what Neiron Ball can bring to us,” Quinn said. “He's a really quick guy. He's long and fast, and as a rusher those are some of the traits you look for.”

Quinn said that Ball is lining up at the buck position in some nickel packages. Fowler, a five-star recruit from St. Petersburg, had 20 sacks in his junior season of high school.

“He certainly looks like he belongs,” Quinn said. “He's physically strong, and when he's out there practicing, you certainly say this guy is ready to help and be part of our defense.”

The increased depth on the defensive line also has Quinn more confident in UF's ability to rush the quarterback. Quinn mentioned true freshman Jonathan Bullard as another player capable of getting some sacks. He also said that junior college transfer Damien Jacobs has improved his pass-rushing ability from inside at defensive tackle since the end of spring practice.

“Even with Ronald not being available to us yet, with the addition of Ball, with the addition of McCray moving down, with the addition of Bullard, with the addition of Fowler, with the existing guys, it seems like the lines are longer, which is certainly a good thing,” Quinn said.

And Quinn is confident that Powell will return at some point during the 2012 season. Powell has already tested the knee with individual workouts on the practice field.

I'm really proud of the way he's approached (the injury),” Quinn said. “He's just been very aggressive and diligent and on it. So I am expecting him to have him back at some point.”

Secondary taking shape

With preseason practices winding down, Quinn laid out some the potential defensive depth chart on Thursday night.

Quinn mentioned Matt Elam and Josh Evans as the top two safeties, with Cody Riggs working out there as well.

“Communication has been good on the back end,” Quinn said. “I've been pleased with that.”

At cornerback, Quinn was more vague, bringing up Riggs, Jaylen Watkins, Brian Poole, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. The competition, Quinn says, has remained even.

“We're going to play three DBs, three corners, a bunch,” Quinn said. “Certainly in the first few games, we'll see that, when we're going to play Bowling Green and Texas A&M, who based on their last season are teams that can throw the ball. So we're going to have to use a nickel package and play three corners and things like that. I kind of have a feeling it will work itself out like it usually does through the course of the season.”

Linebacker depth

Quinn also said that Mike Taylor will back up Jelani Jenkins at weakside linebacker and true freshman Antonio Morrison will back up Jon Bostic at middle linebacker.

“This guy is really coming on,” Quinn said of Morrison. “I like his instincts, his toughness. I think he's got a good a future ahead of him.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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