"The best pass defense in America (is) when you can rush the passer," the Florida coach started before spouting off about junior BUCK Dante Fowler. I think we have a special rusher in Dante. No doubt about that. You build off of that and find different ways to create situations for him. Having Brian Orakpo at Texas, Sergio Kindle, and Jason Taylor at the Miami Dolphins, you build off of that. You find out where you will get the matchups on him inside or outside.
Fowler is the kind of player that can do so many things because of his size and quickness.
"We started against Florida State and put him at Nose Guard to get him in a one on one matchup," Muschamp said.
The Gators are hoping that sophomore Alex McCalister won't be a huge drop off when he has to come in the game. McCalister is making strides and is starting to gain some of the weight and strength he needs to compete on every down at this level.
"Alex McCalister is a guy that needs to continue to develop," Muschamp said. "He is about where we thought he should be. He is a guy that came to camp and broad jumped over 10-feet which is outstanding explosion, he vertical jumped close to 40 inches, but he hadn't played football much. He was a basketball guy.
"Now, he is up to 242 or 245 and can hold the point a little better. He is starting to understand leverage a little better. He has a natural pass rush ability and can flip his hips on the rush. We knew it was going to be a while, but we have been real pleased with how he is doing. We need someone else to give us some pressure on the edge."
Red-shirt freshman Jordan Sherit is another at the BUCK position and has been sidelined with an injury, but they have some high expectations for Sherit in the future.
"Jordan hyper-extended his elbow," Muschamp said. "I am hoping to get him back on Monday. He has been involved in the movement part of practice, but not any contact. He has shown some pop. He had knee surgery last spring before he came on campus. He needed to continue to build muscle in that knee throughout the fall. I think we will see some positive things out of him as we move forward."
Junior Jonathan Bullard is the starter at defensive end, but the staff really likes what they get out of Bullard on the inside in long down and distance situations.
"Jonathan is a very good nickel rusher inside. He can match up well against some of the guards in our league," Muschamp said.
But, in order for Bullard to play inside a good deal, they need someone on that outer edge that can handle it and control it. The staff thinks they are starting to see a lot of that in sophomore Bryan Cox.
"I think it is his motor… he plays hard," Muschamp said when asked why Cox is becoming a big player for the defense. "Football is very important to him. He plays with an edge. He goes out every day and works hard. He was an off the ball player in high school. He came in and didn't know whether he would play linebacker. We put him at defensive end because he was a young senior coming out and knew he had some growth potential.
"I think his strength levels are up. His weight is up, I think we had him at 258 or 260 the other day, so he is able to hold the point much better, using his hands much better on the line of scrimmage than he did a year ago. He's made a really remarkable improvement with using his hands on blocks. Still sometimes when we sink him down and he plays a 4-technique, which is head up on the tackle, he has to be able to hold the point in there a little better at times. I have been very pleased with how he has progressed and is coachable. You can't coach a motor. A guy plays hard or he doesn't. You can coach them through it, but the guys that have that natural ability to play hard… you can build off of that a lot."
One of the big unknowns this spring is freshman Taven Bryan. The staff has been so intrigued with the athleticism Bryan has displayed at camp a year ago and now during spring drills, they believe his future is very bright.
"Taven Bryan is a really strong core guy," Muschamp said. "He is still learning what we do defensively, but I am very pleased with where he is. He has the intangibles and the physical ability and athleticism to be a really good player. When that will be, I don't know. He has what we want. He has length and a really good athlete. He can bend his lower body and change direction. He just has to learn how fast the game moves, especially up front."
The Gators are also working some younger guys inside at defensive tackle. Darious Cummings and likely Leon Orr are seniors that will probably start, but they have a trio of freshmen that they feel will make their mark as Gators at some point.
"Jay-nard Bostwick has done some nice things in the run game as far as playing blocks up front," Muschamp said. "Caleb Brantley is an extremely talented guy that has to battle through playing hard all of the time and understanding that they may have an eight play drive and he may have to play eight plays in a row. Antonio Riles has done some really nice things for us.
"I think we have some really good depth with the guys up front. I have been pretty pleased with what we've got."