Defensive line depth a key

Will Muschamp will always heavily recruit the defensive line. Regardless of where he served as the defensive coordinator before being named the head coach at Florida, it was always an emphasis. His focus on it is only growing now. As offenses evolve and go to more up tempo and spread concepts, the need for depth on the defensive line increases. And Muschamp loves his position group this year.

"You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now," Will Muschamp said.

And that's where his philosophy comes from.

Turning on the film, Muschamp sees the transition in the league. Texas A&M was the headliner in the Southeastern Conference last season, lighting up the scoreboard with its spread, up-tempo attack. This year, the Gators will see similar schematical approaches from Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.

The goal of the up-tempo is to wear out the defense. Muschamp calls rushing the passer "the most exerting thing in football." And because of that, he wants to load up his roster with defensive linemen, specifically ones that can get to the quarterback. The goal for the coaching staff is to make sure no defensive lineman is playing more than six or eight snaps in a row.

"Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can't ever have enough of those guys," Muschamp said. "And certainly if some of those guys don't fit on defense, maybe they can move to offense and help you on that."

Muschamp defines the big skill players as ones on the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and tight ends. The ideal scenario for the Florida staff is to have 50 of them out of the 85 scholarship players.

"This is a big man's league," Muschamp said of the SEC. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don't go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league. We need have a big, physical team."

The Gators have two leaders in the front seven on defense this year, both fourth-year players. Dominique Easley returned for his senior year to put together a full season of tape for NFL scouts, and Ronald Powell is coming off two ACL injuries and is ready to play.

Easley brings energy to the field

There are future stars like Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler at defensive end, but it's Easley and Powell that will lead the unit this year.

"Dominique is not a real vocal guy with the football team," Muschamp said. "He goes out with the way he performs and the way he attacks practice and games and the way he plays is certainly a leader. We don't have a whole lot of vocal guys up front. Jon Bullard doesn't say a whole lot. Dante doesn't say a whole lot.

"Ronald Powell is a really vocal guy, as far as the leadership is concerned. Our guys up front work and understand what they're being asked to do."

Powell is the player that speaks up in meetings and on the practice field, and that's likely how it will be once games start this fall. Easley just works hard and has earned the respect of his teammates that way. He has a different personality -- Muschamp laughed and called it ‘very unique' -- that makes teammates understand what he's all about when he gets on the field.

"He's one of the first guys I'm looking for to make sure he's on the bus going to the stadium," Muschamp said of Easley. "He's going to compete, play hard for his teammates and his teammates are important to him. His team is important to him. He's as good of a competitor as I've been around as far as game day and practice. The guy goes and competes."

As fall practice finishes up its first week, Muschamp and the staff will start taking a closer look at how many reps Powell is taking. The goal is to make sure he is in top physical condition on August 31 for the season opener, so Muschamp is starting to keep an eye on his reps. He'll determine before practice which periods Powell will participate in and which he will watch from the sidelines.

"As far as his quickness, change of direction and initial quickness off the ball, he looks very good," Muschamp said. "We feel very good with that. We've got to be very selective with him on what we're asking him to do throughout practice. We need a fresh player on August 31. I've been very pleased with where he is. He's part of our rabbits package right now and he's rushing the passer really well."

Powell is ready to play

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