Durkin likes Gators' defensive line depth
Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.
Over the past few weeks, the Florida coaches have been placing check marks by some of the Gators’ pre-camp goals. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin did it again Thursday.
Build depth on the defensive line.
"Probably the biggest thing and the biggest challenge was the depth on our defensive line, some of those guys other than the ones,” Durkin said. “They've stepped up and done a great job. I couldn't be more pleased with how they've gone through camp. Joey Ivie, Jay-nard Bostwick, all those guys have come along. Caleb Brantley's improving.
“All those guys have really answered the challenge, and we feel much better right now about being able to roll guys like we like to up front. We're going to do that, and we feel good about the ability to do that because of how they've gone through camp."
The Florida way, the Will Muschamp way, has been to rotate players in and out on the defensive line to keep everyone fresh and playing with an all-out effort, with the hope of eventually wearing down opposing offensive fronts in the fourth quarter.
It’s been a successful approach, one that has helped the Gators be efficient on defense, and one that also has helped produce some elite defensive linemen, including Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and, now, Dante Fowler Jr.
But heading into preseason camp earlier this month, there was some concern the rotating system could be somewhat compromised this season because there appeared to be a drop-off from the first-team defensive front to the second.
Well, three weeks later, that concern apparently has been alleviated.
Some of the younger players on the defensive line have emerged in camp and the coaches feel comfortable again with their rotation system up front, according to Durkin and Muschamp.
Bostwick, Ivie, Alex McCalister, Caleb Brantley and Bryan Cox Jr. are among the young guys who have elevated their games in camp.
“I think Alex McCalister has done some really nice things. 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,” Muschamp said. “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 (we’re) very pleased with him.
“I think that Jay-nard Bostwick is a guy that’s improved tremendously. We really worked on his lower-body flexibility. He’s really made some big strides. I think Caleb Brantley has made some strides. Joey Ivie has made some strides.”
Now that the coaches have confidence in the young guys, the Gators are expected to rotate defensive lineman liberally like they’ve done in the past. That means game reps will be split up pretty evenly.
“That way our guys are fresh when you get to the fourth quarter,” Durkin said. “We kind of hang our hat on how we’re going to finish games and play in the fourth quarter. It sure helps when you haven’t played the whole game to play a great fourth quarter. You’ve had some guys spelling you and getting out.
“Our guys have to earn the trust to get on the field. When they do that, we kind of set the (number of) snaps going into the game. We have a plan. Nothing always goes exactly as planned, but then we just go from there. How you do with your snaps will determine how many more you get the next game, or less.”
Durkin said the coaches have extended some drives in preseason scrimmages to see how certain players would respond with extra reps.
“You can see, ‘Hey, this guy got four to five snaps and you can see a drop-off in his play.’ We don’t want a drop-off in play,” Durkin said. “The most important thing is when the next guy comes in, there’s no drop-off.
“There is a certain standard we want to have and whoever is in there taking the snaps, they’re going to be held to that standard.”
Now that the Gators have met their goal of building depth on the line, the focus turns to the next defensive goal: settle on the other two starters in the secondary to go along with Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal.
“We're starting to get a better idea of where we're going to have some guys,” Durkin said. “The thing about the secondary is there are a lot of guys deserving of playing time and they're going to get it. We're going to roll guys in there and play quite a few. We feel really good about the talent and the depth we have back there. A lot of those guys are without playing experience, so we're going to get them out there and see how they do and go from there."
As for the overall defense, Durkin said he has no major concerns with the start of the season a little more than a week away.
“I think our guys had a great camp,” he said. “I like where we’re at as a team.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.