Notebook: Morrison brings energy to practice

Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison returned to practice last Thursday, and whether it was a coincidence or not, the Gators put together one of their best practices on the day the sophomore linebacker returned. The Florida coaching staff continues to weigh whether or not to decrease his two-game suspension, but they're seeing the energy he's bringing to the practice field this fall.

Because of NCAA rules, Antonio Morrison wasn't in full pads until earlier this week. However, just being back at practice boosted the morale of the team. No one knows when he will return to the Gators for a game, but it was clear to Durkin in the last week that his teammates are happy to have Morrison back on the field.

"The guy brings great energy to practice, he's very physical," D.J. Durkin said on Wednesday. "He loves playing football, he's very into what he does. He's got great respect for his teammates and the players and coaches. He's been a pro about it since he came back."

Morrison was held out of the first week of practice because of his two arrests during the offseason. On top of that discipline, his two-game suspension is still the plan for now, although Will Muschamp has left open the possibility that it could be reduced before the start of the season.

Regardless of whether or not the Florida staff decides to let Morrison back on the team early, his presence on the practice field has brought energy to the defensive side of the ball. He's the key cog in the middle of the Florida defense after playing a key role as a freshman last season. Now stronger and in his second year in the scheme, Morrison is primed for a big year.

"Everyone was excited to see him back out there," Durkin said. "He's their guy. He's one of their teammates, so they were excited when he came back. I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but we had a great practice the day he came back. We've had several great practices so I don't know how much that had to do with it. We're all glad to see him back."

FOWLER BECOMING A STAR: It doesn't matter which side of the ball a player or coach spends his time on. They're all raving about defensive end Dante Fowler this fall. Everyone expects the sophomore defensive end to have a breakout season, and there's no one happier than his defensive coordinator.

"Dante, he's an impressive football player," Durkin said, shaking his head. "He's a rare mix of a guy his size that can move as well as he does and he plays really, really physical. And the great thing about Dante is he practices hard every single day. Every day you see him at meetings, on the field, he's got a big smile on his face.

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease even spoke last week about the difficulties of preparing for the Florida defense. The Gators have similar players in Fowler and Ronald Powell, both can play with their hand on the ground or as a standup rusher. Pease has seen the struggles first hand while trying to block the rush this fall.

It's Fowler's energy off the field that causes his teammates to gravitate to him.

"He just loves competing, loves football, and he's hungry," Durkin said. "He's one of the best guys to coach on the team. He takes coaching really well, just a guy with that ability level that takes coaching -- the sky's the limit."

The emergence of Fowler should give the Gators a much improved pass rush. Jonathan Bullard led the Gators in quarterback hurries last year and now heads into his sophomore year. Plus, there's the addition of Ronald Powell, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The trio should give the Gators a much improved pass rush, and it's showing it in practice so far.

"I expect our pass rush to be very good this year," Durkin said. "The guys we have rushing the passer now, they've shown some really good signs in practice with the four-man pass rush. I feel good about it."

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