Junior Jonathan Bullard will be the starter as the strong side defensive end in the fall. Bullard has had a strong first two seasons and could be on his last season with a good enough year to try the professional ranks early. Blessed with great size at 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, Bullard is the perfect fit for the Gator defense on the outside as the strong side end.
Bullard who finished with 33 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in 2013 also offers the Gators a chance to go quick during definite pass plays by moving Bullard inside as a pass rushing tackle. He is exceptional in this role and is something they may do more often.
Sophomore Bryan Cox had a quiet season stat wise a year ago, but he is a very active player. He finished with five tackles and two sacks in 2013. At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds he is another good fit with his size for the position.
Cox has very active hands and foot work, but just didn't seem to be in the right position a year ago. This spring could go a long way in Cox playing a more prominent role as a strong side defensive end.
Sophomore Joey Ivie saw time on the field a year ago when injuries popped up at tackle. He will mainly play SSDE, but Ivie will also get inside as a quick tackle at times. He has the motor the staff loves and registered three tackles in the three games he played at the end of the year.
Ivie seems to be bouncing back and forth between SSDE and a three-technique tackle, a good spring at one position or the other could push him to one position for the remainder of his career. He and Cox should get a ton of work this spring.
One of the more interesting players this spring should be true freshman Taven Bryan who enrolled early on campus from high school in Casper, Wyoming. Another primo sized defensive end at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Bryan was a monster at camp showing athleticism that was off the charts. That camp visit turned into an offer and with his size, he actually is physically ready to contribute as a freshman if he stays on the edge.
Junior Dante Fowler could be the star of the defense in 2014. He will face competition from corner Vernon Hargreaves, but Fowler has all the tools to be a dominant pass rusher in the SEC. We have already seen a lot out of Fowler and the expectations should be through the roof for the 6-fot-3, 266 pounder.
The Gators will need Fowler's presence with a revamped yet talented secondary. A quality pass rush can help a young secondary more than anything else. The staff also needs Fowler to step up on the leadership end of things. He and Bullard will be counted on to lead the entire defensive line this fall and get the young guys ready to play.
Sophomore Alex McCalister needs a big spring. McCalister has a Jarvis Moss build to him, long and lean at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds, the staff loves his athleticism and his long reach as a pass rushing specialist.
McCalister saw action in seven games including the last five games of the season and he totaled three tackles. He does have to improve his physique and put on some weight and muscle, but his take off at the line of scrimmage is one of the best, if not the best, on the roster.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Sherit will get his first taste of practicing with pads on this spring. He spent last season recovering from a high school knee injury. Sherit was a highly coveted player for the BUCK position coming out of high school and a guy they hope can live up to the promise he showed when he was playing in Tampa.
One thing we know is that Sherit is hungry after sitting out last year and that should lead to quality practice time this spring.
Senior Leon Orr will miss spring ball with a wrist injury. Delayed surgery has him healing before fall practice starts in August. Orr needs to find a way to work on staying low and beating the lineman across from him by doing so. Otherwise he was making strides at the end of last year and certainly knows what he is doing on the field.
Senior Darious Cummings made plays when he was involved last year as well. It is expected that Cummings and Orr will start this season, but that isn't set in stone. Cummings hogs space in the middle, he isn't huge but he plays bigger than his size.
Cummings is strong and quick, but needs to be more consistent. Still, he played a lot last year and started six games. He finished with 15 tackles including three tackles for loss and a sack. WE also remember the interception and return against Tennessee in 2013.
I didn't separate the three-technique guys from the nose tackles because almost all of the defensive tackles on the roster will play both spots at some point.
With that said, there are three freshmen that are facing a huge spring in the middle of the defense. Jay-nard Bostwick was a big get for Florida last year and the word on the street is that he hasn't disappointed in his time on campus. He's got primo size at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds and he is a quick tackle.
Redshirt freshman Caleb Brantley came to Florida a little out of shape but turned it around very quickly meeting the workout regimen of the strength and conditioning staff head on. At 6-foot-2 and 312 pounds, he is more of a plugger and a nose, but as mentioned before all of these guys will see time at both interior line positions.
The surprise of last year, at least in terms of practice time was probably redshirt freshman Antonio Riles. Riles didn't come in with the accolades that the other two, but he has worked hard while on campus and been a big favorite of the staff. At 6-foot4 and 287 pounds, he would seem more of a quick tackle and they love the extra height that he brings to the table.
The Bottom Line: For the defensive line, this spring is all about getting the young guys ready. On the outside, McCalister, Ivie, and Cox need to show big signs of improvement and finding a little depth to insert there would be nice as well.
Inside, the three young guys will be front and center as well. The Gators should have much more depth than they did a year ago, inside and outside for that matter. Getting that depth prepared is the top priority up front for this spring.