Durkin talks options at defensive tackle

Florida head coach Will Muschamp said on Wednesday that defensive tackle Dominique Easley tweaked his knee in practice on Tuesday, but with reports that it is a season-ending injury, the Gators need to build more depth at defensive tackle. Florida has upperclassmen that will get more snaps, but they might have to pull the redshirt on a freshman or two.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin confirmed that the knee injury happened on Tuesday's practice in a non-contact incident when Easley as chasing a screen pass. Durkin called it a "tweak" from the tape of the practice.

The Gators have options at defensive tackle, but none are difference makers like Easley has been this season. Leon Orr has started next to Easley this season with senior Damien Jacobs and junior Darious Cummings the next two off the bench.

After those four, it's plenty of question marks.

The Gators have a three-man freshman class at defensive tackle with Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles. Most indications this season have been that Bostwick would be the first freshman to get on the field in the middle, but Durkin said on Wednesday that he's comfortable with multiple players.

"I think at every position on our defense, we have a pretty healthy rotation to where obviously it's part of the game," Durkin said. "It's nothing you want to happen to anyone or at any position, but we plan for that everywhere. That's why we play a lot of guys."

Easley's presence in the middle of the defensive line has changed what the Gators seeing from opposing offenses. The Florida coaches noticed early on Saturday that the Tennessee coaches were focusing their protection schemes on Easley, which allowed Dante Fowler to have a breakout day off the edge.

However, there's no denying what Easley brings to the Gators. He leads the team with four quarterback hurries, and while he has just two tackles for a loss in three games, Easley has lived in the backfield to create havoc this year.

"Dominique is a guy that has a great motor, great enthusiasm as you can see on the field," Durkin said. "I think that's a contagious thing. I think he's been very disruptive to many teams in the backfield. He plays the game the way we want guys to play on defense.

"With all that being said, he's a part of a whole team of guys that I think are playing well and doing things. So that's the way we want to play on defense, and I think he epitomizes that. But I think there are other guys that do as well."

The Gators could also choose to move sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard into getting more reps as a defensive tackle. He has already played outside and inside this season and will continue to do so, but with Easley being out for the year, Bullard could see more time at defensive tackle.

"He has shown improvement in every game," Durkin said of Bullard. "I think he's gotten better and better as we've gone. That's the mark of a good player and a guy that works hard in practice. I think you've seen now he's feeling better and better with (playing inside and outside). He'll continue to do that.

"That's what our defense needs. He's an unselfish guy. He embraces that. He'll continue to get better."

PREPARING FOR DUEL THREAT: The Florida defense is preparing for a two-quarterback offense this weekend in Lexington. Maxwell Smith serves as the pure passer, throwing for 544 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while competing 57 percent of his passes. Jalen Whitlow, who is more of a runner, has still thrown for 286 yards with 160 yards on the ground.

The Gators have faced teams with multiple quarterbacks getting on the field, keeping the preparation from changing.

"I think we just have to be prepared for both," Durkin said. "They do play both of them and play both of them in all the games and both guys have maybe a different skill-set but a strong skill-set.

"They both look like they're executing what they want to do on offense. We're obviously watching to see who's in there and what they like to do with each one."


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