Middle is Key for Defensive Line

The Gators have a lot of turnover throughout the team from a season ago and there are a lot of questions to be answered. On defense, the questions are going to come from the outside and in the secondary. The Gators have to put up a pass rush much better than a year ago, especially with a rebuilt secondary. The middle of the defensive line is going to have to provide a lot of pressure.

Florida will head into the 2011 season with a bit of unknown at defensive end. Starting on one side should be senior Wiliam Green (6-3, 255), who the new staff was impressed with during the spring. Green has been Mr. Potential since he has been here but has his chance to make something happen in 2011.

Backing up Green on the strong side will be a quartet of ends that have played little or none. Junior Earl Okine (6-6, 290) has tremendous size and looks intimidating, but has yet to show anything on the field. The staff likes what they saw out of Okine in the spring and he seemingly made great strides. Sophomore Kedric Johnson (6-4, 225) will have to stay on the straight and narrow, but regardless he can't seem to put on the necessary weight to be a difference maker at the position. Redshirt freshman Lynden Trail (6-7, 250) has a lot of potential and seems lately to finally put on a little weight, which he badly needs to play in the SEC. he has a big time burst that can help him get on the field. Freshman Clay Burton (6-4, 252) has god size already and if he can match his brother's work ethic, he will see time early.

At the BUCK, the gators need someone that can play with one hand down on the ground and ready to rush the passer, and at times a guy that can drop back or play off the line in space or in traffic. The guy with all the gifts for the position is sophomore Ronald Powell (6-4, 245) and he will start there. We saw glimpses of Powell last fall and what a bona fide wrecking machine he can be. If they could duplicate him for the BUCK and SAM linebacker they would.

Backing him up and playing a lot of SAM linebacker as well is junior Lerentee McCray (6-2, 252). McCray has tremendous straight ahead speed and he has good size. He lacks a little in lateral mobility, but he will play a lot and likely start at SAM in the fall.

With very few and very unproven answers on the outside, the Gators are going to have to rely on a push in the middle from their tackles. Sophomores Sharrif Floyd (6-3, 295) and Dominique Easley (6-1, 285) emerged from spring as the starters in the middle with the smaller but most explosive step from Easley playing at the NOSE. The two are very quick and have good size. They were the top two tackles in high school football for the 2010 recruiting class. So far, they are living up to that billing, even with limited playing time.

Two that will push the sophomores a great deal are senior Jaye Howard (6-3, 295) and junior Omar Hunter (6-0, 300). Howard missed all of spring with an injury but is currently 100%. He will be right there with the young guys in a three horse race for two spots. The three will also play some at defensive end when the Gators go to more unconventional 3-4 look. Hunter started all of last season at the NOSE, but was slowed this spring with an injury and was passed by Easley. Hunter has a lot of experience and he will certainly see a lot of time on the field in the fall.

The top back up to those four is redshirt freshman Leon Orr (6-4, 299) who is finally as healthy as he has been since he arrived on campus a year ago. Orr has slimmed down and is quicker than ever, but still raw. He was actually a pass catching tight end in high school and so he has a ton of athletic ability. Finally, freshman Tevin Westbrook (6-5, 268) arrived this summer and is likely a redshirt candidate. Westbrook only has two year of football experience, but is an athletic player that is a terror on the basketball court. His athleticism should allow him to play a little defensive end as well.

What to Expect:

The Gators have no choice but to hope that Floyd, Easley, Howard, Hunter, and Powell can live up to the hype. The first four have to provide constant pressure from the middle and that may very well be why Hunter isn't starting over the younger guys. This area will probably be improved, but a year away from being dominant.

Powell has to be a difference maker off the end and that seems likely at this point. He can be so disruptive and I think he will be.

Green could be the key, or someone behind him. If they can get more out of Green than they did Justin Trattou a year ago, that would be a good start. If that strong side position can play at a high level, this can be a pretty formidable front.

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