Freshmen Showing Promise for Florida Defense

Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wanted to make the transition as easy as possible for his freshmen. To make that happen, he went back to a technique most use in elementary school. Quinn broke out flash cards to write down the responsibilities of the BUCK linebacker position for freshman Dante Fowler. The position requires lining up in multiple spots, but Fowler is starting to catch on.

"What applies to me in this call?" Dan Quinn asked rhetorically when talking about the flash cards. "When you have the volume of defense in training camp, you can get where it gets scrambled. Put it into the compartments to get it right."

"There's some learning (of the BUCK) where mentally you're up, you're down, you're inside, you're out. I tried to put it into categories—in this call, these are the things I need to know."

It's a tough position for any player to learn, especially a player trying to adjust to his first year of college football. Ronald Powell learned the BUCK last season, but he was going into his second year of college. With Powell's ACL injury, Dante Fowler could be thrown into the fire at the position during his first year.

His physical abilities make the Florida coaches believe he can handle it. Quinn said on Thursday that Lerentee McCray is the first team BUCK with Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball battling for the SAM linebacker job, but Fowler could end up forcing his way into the race at BUCK.

"He plays with a lot of power," Quinn said of Fowler. "He's really strong through his lower body. If he can get underneath you, he can get knockback. You can see that where he can set the edge and rush."

Fowler could get involved in the race for the BUCK linebacker, and another freshman could also see time at linebacker. The Gators return Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and McCray as the starters at linebacker last season, but Antonio Morrison could force his way on the field.

The freshman enrolled early and went through spring practice, where he caught the eye of Florida coaches and players.

"Antonio Morrison continues to impress," Quinn said. "He's a very physical linebacker that we've played at the MIKE and WILL. He answers the bell when you challenge him. He's somebody I'm impressed with so far as a rookie."

Jonathan Bullard is also starting to come on. He was delayed and didn't enroll in the summer with most of the freshman class, but the five-star defensive end didn't waste time impressing on the practice field. The coaches saw his physicality early in fall camp.

Bullard has plenty of size

"Bullard has some size and length to him," Quinn said. "When you get him out on the perimeter and he pushes the pocket, he has length and can get off. He plays a good six-technique with his head up on the tight end."

Marcus Maye returned to practice last weekend. The freshman safety tore his meniscus before enrolling at Florida in the summer, but he can still earn a role on this year's team if he learns quick.

"He's still in the process of getting ready," Quinn said. "He's back out and doing it. We're fired up to see him back out there, but I'm not sure about the percentage.

"He's a bright guy. From a learning standpoint, he's able to catch on and understand concepts. For him, it'll be how quickly he can physically develop."

RELATIONSHIP WITH Bryant Young: Quinn played a big role in the addition of Bryant Young to the Florida staff. He coached from 2001-2004 for the San Francisco 49ers, where Young played his entire 13-year career.

"He set the standard of what a professional player is for me," Quinn said. "I was fortunate to get be at a club he was at with the way he worked and carried himself. That was the standard of how I thought a professional defensive lineman carried himself."

Quinn left to coach defensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins on Nick Saban's staff in 2005, but he still kept in touch with Young. When the Dolphins and 49ers would play, Quinn's eyes were always scanning the field, trying to find Young. They would talk and catch up before and after the game.

During the first season after Young retired, Quinn was coaching for the New York Jets when the team made a trip to San Francisco. He got in contact with Young and the two spent more time together catching up.

"For those years of working with him, I saw what a professional defensive lineman was about—from integrity, committed, tough, a leader," Quinn said.

When Quinn took the job at Florida, he remembered hearing that Young was getting back into college coaching. Young had just completed his first year as the defensive line coach at San Jose State but decided to make the jump to Gainesville and work with Quinn.

"We had a great relationship," Quinn said. "When he started coaching, I knew someday he would be someone I wanted to work with based on who he was as a player and a man.

"He has come into his own and can talk about experiences or things about how to play that I certainly won't be able to share with them. If he says this is how he did it, they pretty much say, ‘I believe you.'"

Florida does not allow position coaches to talk to the media.

PASS RUSH EMPHASIS: The Gators went into spring practice and entered fall camp with the same concern on defense. They had to create more of a pass rush. It plagued the team during the 2011 season, and with most of the personnel returning, Florida will try to improve it this season.

"That was one of the things coming out of the offseason—how are we going to generate more pressure and effect the QB more? Adding some of the rushers we had and Neiron Ball (helps)," Quinn said. "Now it feels like we can spend a good bit of time on that area. I'm anxious to put that out there and show that."

Sharrif Floyd spent most of the 2011 season at defensive end, but he'll move to tackle this season. Dominique Easley will slide from defensive tackle to end in 2012. The transition is going well in the early stages.

"It has been good," Quinn said. "It's a new move for him, but he moves it pretty fast. We watched tape together and showed him how we like it. He has a good understanding and caught on pretty quick."

Easley is ready to play defensive end

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