Junior defensive end Jonathan Bullard is set to make a big contribution up front for the Florida Gator defense. Where he will line up on any given snap will depend on a lot of things, but expect him to make a difference.
It was Bullard’s ability to handle inside and outside duties this spring that has allowed the Gators to move other potential stars in the lineup like Bryan Cox and a little bit of Alex McCalister as well. His versatility will let the Gators run a bit more of the 3-4 defensive front we have seen little of since Will Muschamp arrived on campus, but heard a lot about.
This fall, the Gators have been working almost exclusively on the new alignment.“So far I’ve been on the outside, but I know I am going on the inside,” Bullard said when asked about the dual positions he will play. “I think they will do about half and half. But with the defense we are running it is about the same anyway, three-down fronts so far. As we get into the four-down fronts I think I will play more inside.”
Defensive tackle Leon Orr missed the entire spring with a hand injury and that maybe prompted the staff to go hard in letting Bullard try the three-technique defensive tackle position.
“I think they expected me to play inside,” Bullard said. “So him being out was another reason to throw me in there and get more reps.”
It was tough at first. It is a bit of a different ball game for a player to come from playing on the edge and being outside the last offensive line player to playing inside where he has to handle guys on both sides of him.
“I feel good now,” he said. “I think I’ve improved in it. I want to do it now. I put my mind to it and do little things. Instead of doing it at the edge I move inside and do drills so I know the different techniques.
“I would say inside is tougher because of double teams. Outside, if I get a double team it’s a tight end and a tackle, it is different getting Chaz Green and Trenton Brown both coming down at you. That is the biggest difference.
“You are closer to the ball and your man. At end I am taking one or two steps before contact, inside my feet can still be on the ground and making contact. It is just quicker.”
They have yet to put on full pads, so working their hands and position fundamentals is huge for early fall practices. So far they have are doing alt of both.
“We did a lot with hand placement,” Bullard said of the first two days of practice. “Especially with me being inside it is different and I need to move my hands faster. We have been doing form tackling and stuff like that.”
One positive for this season up front is the familiarity between the defensive line and assistant coach Brad Lawing. The veteran coach moved from South Carolina a year ago and guys like Bullard have had more than a year with him. The familiarity is starting to pay dividends.
“It is different now knowing what your coach expects,” Bullard said. “We had to get adjusted to his coaching. He is adjusting too. He has to know our goods and bads. He has to coach every player different. So, it is better.”
Last year, depth was a huge concern. When team leader and All-American candidate Dominique Easley was injured after game three, the depth issues showed big. Now, the defensive line is working to build the depth like that of the 2012 line where guys like Bullard and fellow junior Dante Fowler were coming off the bench as freshman and supplying quality time on the field.
“It’s always good to have the players that are going to be playing together on the same page and getting the feeling of how they work,” Bullard said of having guys that already know what is going on. “I think we do (have the depth). We need some young guys to step up. I don’t know how the young guys are doing (because they are split), but I am expecting to have the same rotation like 2012. We just have to get some guys to step up. We have a long way to go with camp, so we will see what they do.”
One of the bright spots this past spring was the play of sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox. His positive play allowed the staff to focus on Bullard staying inside. Cox will play a much bigger role than he did last year, especially if spring is any indication.
“He’s a high motor guy, he works hard and runs to the ball,” Bullard said of Cox. “He makes plays and had a good spring. He didn’t get a lot of action last year but showed in spring and other times that he can play and is a guy we will be depending on. He will have the pedal to the metal each play no matter how tired he is. He will run to the ball and give it all he’s got and that is a great attribute to have.”
On the other side of the defensive line, All-American candidate Dante Fowler should bring a lot of heat to the ball carrier in the backfield. Fowler actually took a lot of time off in the spring allowing some young guys to get some work in. One of those is sophomore Alex McCalister. We have heard about McCalister for a couple of years now and about his freakish physical attributes. Bullard says the young man is ready to show his stuff this fall.
“I think he can help us,” Bullard said of his fellow North Carolinian McCalister. “He is obviously a guy that is obviously behind Fowler, so he will probably come off the bench. But, I think he can help us. He has gained weight and can hold his ground now. With that, it is all he needed because he came in real little and was pushed around, but now with his length and his speed, he can really help us.”
The Florida staff has worked people around in different spots up front to help try and create more pass rush and movement up field on the line. The feeling is that the moves were successful in the spring and will be hugely beneficial in the fall. Bullard and company should have fun with it too.