With 22 returning sacks, the key will be to find more production off the edge and find new players that can make an impact.
Ronald Powell (JR, 6-4, 248) led the Gators with six sacks last season. He spent time as the BUCK, with his hand down at defensive end in a 4-3 defense and standing up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Powell also tied for second on the team with three quarterback hurries and had nine tackles for a loss. Despite those numbers, there is still potential for more out of Powell.
He came to Gainesville as one of the top high school players in the country and has shown flashes during his first two years. This will be his first spring practice where he will take reps in the same defense as the previous fall. With his role as the BUCK in the defense locked into his mind, Powell could have a big spring and emerge as an elite pass rusher this fall.
Kedric Johnson (RJR, 6-4, 226) recorded five tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry. Most of his production came in blowout wins against Kentucky and FAU. Johnson has the physical stature to make an impact, and with the Gators having limited depth at defensive end this spring, Johnson will get plenty of reps and the opportunity to make a push for more consistent playing time.
Florida has been waiting for a big season out of Earl Okine (RSR, 6-7, 272) since he signed. His height and weight can create mismatches all over the defensive line. He can line up on the perimeter or as an interior player, and he split time between the two positions in 2010. Okine played strictly at defensive end in 2011 and recorded eight tackles, one tackle for a loss, one pass break up and four quarterback hurries.
When the Gators run a 4-3 in the fall, they'll need either Okine or Johnson to step up on the edge opposite of Powell. If not, a freshman could get involved. The Gators will add seven bodies to the defensive line in the summer when the freshmen show up, and highly regarded players like Jonathan Bullard or Dante Fowler could have an immediate impact as pass rushers.
When the Gators run a 3-4, they can slide two defensive tackles outside to the edge if Okine, Johnson or a freshman can't handle the position.
The Gators are expected to be without Dominique Easley (JR, 6-2, 282) this spring after he tore his ACL against Florida State in November. Easley created havoc in the backfield all fall with his quick get off and ability to penetrate in the backfield. Easley had 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
His absence this spring could held Florida get more reps for other players.
Sharrif Floyd (JR, 6-3, 295) spent last season at defensive end before sliding inside to defensive tackle against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl and had his best game of the season. In that game, Floyd recorded the first sack of his career on the first drive and added a tackle in the backfield for a loss of five yards on the next snap.
This spring will allow Floyd to get back in the routine at defensive tackle and more comfortable at his natural position. Muschamp said after the 2011 season that Floyd could still see some time at defensive end if that's the better matchup. When Florida goes to a 3-4 defense, Floyd or Easley could slide to the outside to defensive end.
Omar Hunter (RSR, 6-1, 305) is the anchor in the middle. If Floyd and/or Easley slide outside to defensive end in a 3-4, Hunter is the big body that is tough for the opposing offensive line to move. He's short but stays low enough to get under the pads of the opposing offensive lineman.
Hunter is also the veteran of the group. Even last year with seniors William Green and Jaye Howard, it was Hunter that was looked upon as the leader of the position group. He is experienced on the field after having an impact on each of the last three seasons.
Hunter and Floyd have taken plenty of reps in their years at Florida. Easley's injury won't improve that, but it will help three players see more first-team reps this spring.
Damien Jacobs (JR, 6-3, 310) was signed out of East Mississippi Community College and is on campus for spring practice. After originally signing with Florida State out of high school, Jacobs will give the Gators some more depth at defensive tackle. The spring will be as important for him on the field as it will be off it.
The two defensive tackles that should benefit the most from spring ball are Leon Orr (RSO, 6-5, 310) and Tevin Westbrook (RFR, 6-5, 279). Both players saw the field last season but could use more consistent reps in the spring to show the coaches where they are and continue to improve.
Orr played in every game during the 2011 season. He redshirted in 2010 while working as an offensive lineman, so another set of practices on the defensive side of the ball should make him a more consistent contributors. Orr recorded ten tackles, one tackle for a loss, one quarterback sack and a pass breakup.
Westbrook played in each of the first three games and recorded two tackles and a sack. The former basketball player was raw when he got to campus but could turn into a solid player this spring.