Post-Camp Defensive Overview: Front Seven

The front seven of the Florida defense wasn't the run stopping unit the Gators were hoping for in 2011. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is hoping the added year of strength and experience changes that. The pass rush can also improve. The Gators added two freshmen that should help put pressure on the quarterback. The depth in the front seven is improved after the Gators return most players.

LINEBACKER: Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins return to anchor the middle of the Florida defense. Bostic has become more vocal in the offseason and admitted he is more comfortable in the second year of the scheme. Behind Bostic, freshman Antonio Morrison has been drawing praise since he enrolled for spring practice. He is expected to be the backup to Bostic.

"I've said before I thought this guy was really coming on," Dan Quinn said of Morrison. "I like his instincts and toughness. I think he's got a big future ahead of him and looking forward to seeing what he can do."

Morrison is ready for a big fall

Jelani Jenkins will start at the WILL linebacker position with an added physique. The offseason plan of first-year strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman bulked Jenkins up to 237 pounds.

Behind him is expected to be Michael Taylor, who saw plenty of time on the field in 2011.

"Those are guys we totally count on," Quinn said. "Jelani is somebody that plays in our dime package and is a good blitzer."

PASS RUSHERS: Quinn included the SAM and BUCK linebacker positions into this group with the defensive ends. Lerentee McCray, Dante Fowler, Neiron Ball and Darrin Kitchens will factor into the two linebacker positions and could see time with their hand down in pass rush situations.

Quinn singled out Jonathan Bullard and Earl Okine as two that will factor in at defensive end.

The pass rush was an emphasis of the offseason. Quinn said the defense kept track of which players won their one-on-one matchup in every fall practice. The Gators lined up with a four-man defensive front against the five on the offensive line and put emphasis on every defensive lineman that wasn't double teaming winning his individual matchup.

It's a drill that Quinn mimicked in his time with the Miami Dolphins. They spent more time doing that and less in strict one-on-one drills.

"Sometimes in one-on-one, there's a lot of space and timing is different," Quinn said. "When you get into a team aspect, it's close quarters and makes you work your skills harder."

The depth was an issue from the pass rushers in 2011. The addition of Bullard and Fowler makes that easier this season, and the return of Neiron Ball will also give the Gators some depth off the edge.

Ball spent his first spring working out with this coaching staff, and Quinn thinks he can get after the quarterback. Ball showed his ability on special teams in 2010, but he sat out the 2011 season with arteriovenous malformation (AVM), or the tangling and rupturing of brain's blood vessels.

Now healthy and back on the field after a long recovery, Ball is an important part to the Florida defense.

"It's nice to see him back and going again," Quinn said. "I'm anxious to see what Neiron Ball can bring to us. He's long and fast, and those are the traits you look for in a rusher."

Fowler can play the BUCK position and is versatile enough to play outside linebacker or put his hand down at defensive end. Quinn said he was happy with how Fowler pushed through the freshman wall that usually happens in fall camp and focused on correcting areas in his game that needed it.

The freshman has acted like a veteran player since he showed up on campus.

"He certainly looks like he belongs," Quinn said. "He's physically strong and when he's out there, you certainly say that this guy is ready to help and be a part of our defense before."

Ball and Fowler will be an important part of replacing the pass rush of Ronald Powell in the early part of the season. Quinn said he is planning to have Powell back at some point this season, but there is no update on when that could be.

The work ethic of Powell in the offseason has made the recovery time shorter than expected. Quinn and Powell work together after most practices to keep him in shape. He goes through his knee rehab, but they do drills to work on his hands and keep that part in game condition.

"I'm really proud of the way he approached this," Quinn said. "He's very aggressive, diligent and on it. I expect to have him back at some point. Watching a guy going through what he's done and been through, it gives you a sense of pride when he's in your group."

INTERIOR LINEMEN: Quinn pointed to Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter, Damien Jacobs, Leon Orr and occasionally Dominique Easley to anchor the middle of the defensive line. He credited Hunter for playing stronger as he heads into his senior season.

Jacobs is the most improved since the spring. He came to Gainesville sloppy and out of shape. It didn't take long before Dillman changed that. With his improved conditioning, Jacobs has gotten lighter and become a better pass rusher from the interior of the defensive line.

"He's lighter. When he first came in, he was heavier and his conditioning wasn't as good for spring practice," Quinn said. "He changed his body over the summer and how hard he worked. Now, you can see his quickness come out. He adds another inside rusher for us. That's a role I'm anxious to see him develop through the first couple games."

The coaches are still taking it easy with Dominique Easley, who tore his ACL in a loss to Florida State in late November last season. He is ready for game action and won't be limited when the Gators open the season on September 1, but the coaches and trainers elected to be smart with him this fall in practice.


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