Quinn Watching His D-Line Grow Up

For Dan Quinn the competition every week is the big thing. The name of the game is to win. However, as a college coach for the first time and after a dozen years in the NFL, Florida's defensive coordinator is enjoying watching his young defense grow right in front him. With three sophomore starters up front, Quinn hopes to have a lot to enjoy as the season moves on.

On Saturday, Dan Quinn watched his young defense come of age a bit as they won their first SEC rivalry game in solid fashion. A 33-23 victory, the game wasn't as close as the score indicated and in large part due to a defense that may have seen the best passing game they will see all season.

As Florida began to build a lead and stuff Tennessee's running game, the Vols had to turn more and more to sensational quarterback Tyler Bray and the passing game. For Quinn and his pupils along the line, it was a lesson in navigating through a changing game plan.

"As a front you have to work just as hard on both ends," Quinn said of being a good run stuffing front and pass rushing front. "When you're playing the run well you get more opportunities to rush the pass. I would like to see us improve in that area a little more. I feel like we are just getting started in terms of our technique and where we can go. We are playing a number of guys inside and outside and I am ready to see their development continue.

"It turned into a passing game pretty early on and sometimes that is a function of our offense as well. When the score changes, the game changes, so we always have to always be aware of that. It kind of turned into a nickel ball game early on. Sometimes that is just the way the game unfolds and we will be ready accordingly.

One player that will has an integral part in both the run and passing defense is Ronald Powell. The starter at the BUCK position he will be asked to get after the quarterback at times and in other times he will have to play in space like a linebacker. Florida head coach Will Muschamp said Powell had his best game as a Gator on Saturday and Quinn was quite happy with Powell's progress from the previous weeks.

"I thought that he got off the ball a lot quicker," Quinn said. "I thought some of the hesitation, waiting and thinking he saw from the first two ball games, we didn't see that in the game. I was pleased with the progress he made and it is more in line with what the position entails and I thought he did a good job in the game."

Muschamp made it a point to say that Powell needs to be coached up better. The implication, according to Quinn, is that Powell has all that physical ability and they just have to figure out a way to get that ability on the playing field.

"He is saying we need to get more production out of him," Quinn said of Muschamp's statement on the sophomore. "The responsibility falls back more to the coaching. He is saying ‘let's get the most out of the guy'. He thinks (Ronald) has a lot to offer."

They spent a little more time with Powell in the week leading up to the game and the extra personal time in practice paid off as the familiarity with what he was supposed to be doing made him speed up and play fast on the field.

"We went back through the first couple of ball games and watched the technique and talked about what we were looking for moving forward," Quinn said. "I kind of thought it was a little bit of that light coming on and telling somebody exactly what you want and then him going out and doing it. I thought that was a really good step for him. It is a unique position and I think early on he was thinking maybe too much, and we saw less of that in the ball game."

One of the highlight machines in the front four this year has been sophomore nose tackle Dominique Easley. Easley has the fastest first step on the front line and uses it to get immediate penetration, often times leaving offensive linemen helpless.

Easley also is a guy that has fun on the field. A great deal of time you can see him dancing at the line of scrimmage before the snap, or on the sideline for that matter. He seems to be a man that literally beats to his own drum. Quinn doesn't mind.

"He brings a lot of energy to the team," Quinn said of his star in the middle. "He plays a style that we like. He plays fast and physical and gets his hands on you. He is a disruptive player inside and is another guy that the more he plays and gains experience, I think six games from now or nine games from now, he will be that much better. I am looking forward to watching him progress.

"There is some quickness there that is pretty rare. We like what he is doing up front and like that we can move him around in some spots."

Quinn said there have been times when they have had to settle the big guy down.

"There is definitely a line and nobody including us coaches are worth a personal foul," Quinn said of drawing an un-sportsman like penalty. "That would not be a part of the program for us. He isn't the only one (we've had to calm down), myself at times too."

Then there was the moment after sophomore safety Matt Elam made the last interception of the game that all but sealed the victory for the Gators. Easley raced over to Elam who was running slowly and the big guy clothes-lined his teammate scaring all of the Gator fans, coaches, and fellow players watching.

Elam wasn't hurt, but Quinn rolled his eyes when asked about that particular moment and laughed when he said, "That would be frowned upon, certainly."

The Gators also saw the return of one of their young stars to the lineup. Sophomore end Sharrif Floyd saw his first action of the season after a two-game NCAA suspension and played well despite the rust.

"It was certainly good having him back out there," Quinn said of Floyd. "He is a terrific teammate. Just to have his ability out there and get him playing. It was his first game and usually in the first game there are mistakes that you make. He is anxious to get back out and get playing again."

Floyd brings versatility in that in four down sets in passing situations he would certainly slide inside to add more size and speed to the pass rush when needed. It may also happen if the staff likes a matchup for the all-star sophomore.

"I think it depends on the game," Quinn said of where Floyd might play on the line. Sometimes based on a matchup, sometimes based on run-pass, and then other times where we move him inside as a pass rusher. He hasn't done it as much and we moved him there over the course of training camp, so he is getting more comfortable with it and it is just taking some reps to do it.

One guy that has probably had to swallow his pride a bit is senior William Green. The defensive end was penciled in as a starter this year and did for the first two games… until Floyd's return.

It appears the move has just been because of the matchup situations described above and Quinn is extremely happy with the way that Green has managed his time in the new system.

"He is one of the guys that you really trust," Quinn said of the senior from Alabama. "He has been that way ever since I met him. He is a guy that does extra.

"Coming out of training camp I thought he might have been our most improved player from the spring. At the end of spring we talked to each of the players and said here are three things to have them get better at and Willie really took it to heart. When he came back for training camp, you really saw a difference. It was a really cool thing for him, because right when he started to pass rush very well, the light came on for him.

"A lot of times you put in a lot of work and it doesn't really happen for you anyway, so it was really nice to see him have the experience where he was playing well and all the hard work paid off."

That seems to be theme for the entire defensive line unit.

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