Pass rush expected to blossom

HOOVER, Ala. -- For as dominant as the Florida defense was in 2012, the Gators didn't always get to the quarterback at the rate they wanted to. There will be changes and new faces along the Florida defense in 2013, but the pass rush won't be an issue this season. It's expected to be the strength of the team, led by sophomores Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler plus the return of Ronald Powell.

The trio will be on the field at the same time as much as possible in 2013, made possible by the strong play of Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard. The two showed they could hang at the line of scrimmage in the Southeastern Conference as freshmen. Bullard led the team in quarterback hurries while Fowler improved throughout the year.

That means Ronald Powell can play SAM and BUCK linebacker for Florida. Florida head coach Will Muschamp confirmed on Tuesday at SEC Media Days that Powell will play SAM linebacker in the regular package and BUCK linebacker in Florida's sub-package.

"I fully expect him to be a part of the four-man rush packages when we're in those situations," Muschamp said.

Fowler's impressive freshman season played a role in the coaches being comfortable enough to let Powell see time at the SAM linebacker. The Gators can play in a 4-3 set with Powell at the SAM while Bullard and Fowler play both defensive end spots. When Florida goes to its 3-4 package, Powell can play as the BUCK linebacker with Bullard and Fowler on the edges of the defensive line.

Fowler could have a breakout year

But rest assured -- the Gators will play most of their snaps with Fowler and Powell on the field together.

"There's no question," Muschamp said. "Those guys can be two of our better players in the front seven, and we need to get them on the field at the same time."

The hype around Powell was starting to build at the end of the spring in 2012. He was a five-star recruit that came across the country with plenty of hype to play in Gainesville. He played a step slow in 2011 while learning Muschamp's defense but still led the team with six sacks. Last spring, he showed signs of a breakout season to come.

He tore his ACL in the 2012 spring game and missed the entire 2012 season. He was planning to be back midway through the 2012 season before suffering another ACL injury. With each injury, he got tougher. With every setback, another triumph was on his mind.

And Muschamp can't wait to see him get on the field and make a difference this fall.

"If there's one guy I'm more excited about than anybody else, it's Ronald Powell," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that has been through so much adversity and was playing at such a high level a spring ago. Here's a guy that has really dedicated his life to getting back to playing football.

"People don't understand that when you're a football player and it's taken away from you, it's a hard deal to go through. He has handled it so well."

Powell has played well when healthy

Powell took Fowler under his wing when he stepped on campus last season. Even though Powell wasn't participating in physical activity with the team at that point in the year, he understood what Fowler was going through. Both came to campus as athletic pass rushers with high expectations.

It has taken Powell a little while longer to meet them, and he wanted Fowler to understand that it doesn't always come immediately. This could be the year it comes for both players.

"He had a very good offseason and spring," Muschamp said about Fowler. "Football is very important to Dante. He goes after it hard and works out hard. He does everything you ask him to do. He had an outstanding freshman season and we're expecting an outstanding sophomore year."

The other addition that could improve the pass rush this year is defensive line coach Brad Lawing. When Dan Quinn left Gainesville to take the job as the defensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Muschamp's mind immediately went to what he has seen on tape while preparing for games.

It always went back to what he saw before the Gators faced South Carolina. Brad Lawing always took players that weren't always the most highly recruited ones and turned them into players that made an impact. The pass rush schemes the Gamecocks used always caught Muschamp's eye.

"I always felt as an assistant coach your tape was your résumé," Muschamp said. "You can get up on of the board and draw fancy X's and O's, but at the end of the day, what you put on the field is who you are as a coach."

And that's why he made the call to Lawing.

"After 15 days of spring practice, I totally understand what he did there. He's an outstanding football coach and really a great addition to our staff."

Bullard will make a big impact in 2013

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