Florida football: An early look at the Gators' edge rushers this spring
Florida football is seeking more impact plays from its edge rushers in 2023 under second-year coach Billy Napier.
Last season, Florida’s 23 sacks ranked 10th in the SEC. Of the 23 sacks, 5.5 came from edge rushers Brenton Cox Jr., Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. and Lloyd Summerall III.
Under new Florida defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, the goal is to put opposing offenses in more third-and-long situations and bring the heat on those downs.
“I tell the guys, you’ve got to earn the right to rush the passer,” Florida edge rushers coach Mike Peterson said “You’ve got to stop the run. That’s the focus. That’s the first thing when we talk about stopping the run. Stop the run, you earn that right. You’re able to rush the passer on third down.”
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Here’s an early look at Florida edge rushers this spring:
Princely Umanmielen working out on the edge
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Umanmielen began playing on the edge last season when Cox was dismissed from the Gators in early November. He will look to carry over that success into 2023. He finished last season with 4.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, 9 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
“I just try to, this season, focus on having pro habits especially outside of practice,” Umanmielen said. “Just trying to get more sleep, eat better, just have better habits, go watching film more and just things like that so I can take off this next season.”
Umanmielen said being in better shape will translate into not just rushing the passer, but in stopping run and coverage responsibilities for opposing running backs and tight ends.
“I don’t worry too much about guarding people, man to man,” Umanmielen said. “Sometimes I have the tight end man to man, but as far as passing goes, it’s really simple, it hasn’t changed. I played F last year and I would do a lot of zone dropping and it’s kind of the same thing.”
Peterson said Umanmielen brings versatility to the edge rush spot.
“He’s a guy that can do a lot of things for you on defense,” Peterson said. “For a guy with that size, he’s able to drop into coverage. He can definitely rush the passer. We’ve been talking about showing everybody that he can also play the run. So he has all the tools.”
Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. showed promise last season
Powell-Ryland also benefitted from more snaps when Cox left the team. He finished 2022 with 3 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles.
“He’s growing up,” Peterson said. “That’s the beauty in coaching. When you get them, and they are raw. Maybe quiet, maybe a little shy, a little timid. You see the progress in them, becoming a leader. He’s another one, doing all the right things.”
The 6-2, 233-pound Powell-Ryland said he’s enjoying the competition with Umanmielen.
“We all like to learn from each other,” Powell-Ryland said. “Whatever he’s good at, I try to get it from him and it’s the same way.”
Jack Pyburn, Kelby Collins provide depth
Pyburn, a 6-3, 259-pound sophomore from the Bolles School in Jacksonville, has impressed teammates and coaches with his energy and work ethic.
"He's hard-nosed, physical wants to meet every day, wants to work out every day," Peterson said. "A guy like Jack Pyburn you gotta love. He's always wanting to meet with me one-on-one … he’s definitely going to have a role on this team.”
Collins, a four-star recruit and early enrollee from Gardendale, Ala., brings size to the edge at 6-4, 277.
“A ton of potential,” Peterson said. “You can add (early enrollee) TJ Searcy to that group also. I got three young guys that's kind of exciting to coach. Anybody around me, that's been around me, they probably can attest to this. I feel really, really good about my group.”