Gators hoping to develop the pass rush

Florida knows where its best pass rushing presence will come from this season. Dante Fowler is showing the consistency necessary to fill that role. The questions come after that. The Gators have spent the spring working to develop depth in their pass rush, and Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin feels comfortable with the progress shown as spring practice comes to a close later this week.

It all starts with Dante Fowler. There were games during the 2013 season where he showcased the ability of an All-American. There were other times when he looked lost and didn't make the impact necessary. That's what the Florida coaches have challenged him with this spring. They want him to be more consistent and show every day that he can create havoc off the edge.

"The biggest difference with Dante is his consistency," D.J. Durkin said. "We can all look at last year and say there were games where he played really, really well, was almost a dominant player. And there were games where that wasn't there. That was our challenge to him going into spring ball and going into next season. He's really done that in the spring. He's playing really determined. He took that challenge the right way. He's been great all spring."

There are uncertainties after that. Jonathan Bullard has taken all of his reps at defensive tackle this spring, but Durkin said on Thursday that he could stay play defensive end in the fall if necessary. His athleticism up the middle provides a different look for most interior offensive linemen.

"He's playing his best football," Durkin said of Bullard. "He and Dante, those two guys feed off one another. They're very competitive, they're good friends. They're competitive on the field. It's been very good for both of them, good for our defense."

Senior Darious Cummings also provides some push at defensive tackle, along with Leon Orr, who is out for the spring with a wrist injury.

Linebacker Neiron Ball is also out for the spring, but Durkin pointed to him as a guy off the edge in the fall to provide pass rush.

The last name might come as a surprise. The Florida coaches took Alex McCalister late in the 2012 recruiting class and knew he would be a project. They wanted him to gain weight and add strength to his 6-6 frame. The weight has come in recent months, and the redshirt sophomore is now up to 245 pounds.

"Alex McCalister is another young guy that's now stepping up and growing," Durkin said. "He's been a developmental guy. He's really having a great spring. He can definitely help us in terms of pass rush. He does some dynamic things pass-rush wise that other guys cannot. He'll help us."

He was just too exciting of a prospect for the Florida coaches to turn down. Listed at 6-6, 223 pounds out of high school, McCalister ran like a receiver and had speed to make an impact in the pass rush if he worked on his fundamentals and strength. With one year under Dan Quinn and another under Brad Lawing, the fundamentals have stuck.

Now that his weight is heavier and his body can handle the physicality of a season, Durkin thinks this is the year he can make an impact.

"He's a guy we knew out of high school was going to be a little more of a project," Durkin said. "He was more of a basketball player more than anything, but you sit there and say his potential and ceiling is really, really high and he's making great strides to get there. This is the best set of football he's put together this spring camp. He's really a guy that now we can say can go into games and really help us.

"It's been great. He's responded really well. He's learning the game. Coach Lawing is working with him on technique and all that and he's taking coaching and it's showing up."


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