Fresh Defensive Line Reaping Benefits

Florida defensive linemen stumbled to the end of games in 2011. With hands on their knees and gasping for air, it was the only choice Florida had—play the best defensive linemen as many snaps as the player could handle. That's not the case this year. Impact freshmen and a junior college transfer give the Gators more bodies on the defensive line, and the starters remain fresh in the fourth quarter.

"When you get into third down and you have the ability to have some guys who can go onto the field who maybe have not played as many snaps, that's always an advantage for you," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "It's one thing that we've been trying to build in terms of the depth and the experience with the guys to be able to affect the quarterback a little more. I think that's paying dividends for us."

The most important part in improving the depth is the returning players from last year. The Gators lost Jaye Howard and William Green to graduation, but the addition of three players has made an important difference. Freshmen Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard are both seeing increased reps through the first four games, and junior college transfer Damien Jacobs, who had a quarterback pressure during one interception against Kentucky, is a trusted member on the interior of the line.

"He's got good quickness, he can push the pocket," Quinn said of Jacobs.

Health is also important to the increased depth, as the unit has stayed on the field for the most part this season.

Behind the big names like Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley on the defensive front, there are players that continue to emerge. The number of bodies on the defensive line was similar last season, but the difference this year is the improvement. There are now more trusted players that have improved since last season.

Leon Orr and Earl Okine are proving capable of handling an increased role, which helps the starters stay fresh late in the game.

"Leon Orr has certainly got the size and the strength and he's played some valuable minutes for us inside," Quinn said. "Not only can he stand in there against the run, but we feel like he can push the pocket against the pass. Earl Okine's another guy who's a veteran player who has had some experience playing both end and tackle. We played him a little bit at tackle this week in some nickel situations."

Resting some of the veterans is tough to plan. The coaches have to balance the long-term view of the goal with the short term of wanting to get a stop and the ball back in the hands of the offense. It's not always easy to do.

Quinn said the Florida staff tries to find the best way to mix in the backups. One time to make it happen is when the opponent starts a drive pinned deep in their own territory. However, once third down rolls around, the starters are back in the game.

"That's usually how you end up starting with a rotation," Quinn said. "And then as you get into third downs or some critical downs, you try to get a guy like that back in the game. A lot of times, it's in the first and second quarters."

The results are paying off. The Florida defensive line has been more active, specifically in the pass rush, in the fourth quarter of games this season. Because of the rest and pacing the usage of key players, the Florida defense hasn't given up a point in the fourth quarter this season.

"I think at the end of game you saw guys with more speed in their rush and more quickness in their getoff," Quinn said. "Where they certainly played as hard all the time, but when you got into a 50- or 60-play game as opposed to a 40, you had a little more energy to go at the end of the ballgame than when you did. When the big guys run out of gas, it's hard to keep it going. Having those guys and the ability to rush for us late in the game was big."

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