There was plenty of potential, athleticism and stars from the recruiting process on the depth chart behind the starters. But before the fall, none of them had emerged. Darious Cummings and Leon Orr played plenty of snaps last year and will be counted on to start this year, but behind them, the second-year players needed to step up.
Joey Ivie added weight and is making an impact at 288 pounds this fall. Caleb Brantley started to get comfortable and make plays after the first week of camp. Jay-nard Bostwick is making an impact and adds a fifth body inside.
"Probably the biggest thing and the biggest challenge was the depth on our defensive line, some of those guys other than the ones,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “They've stepped up and done a great job. I couldn't be more pleased with how they've gone through camp. Joey Ivie, Jay-nard Bostwick, all those guys have come along. Caleb Brantley's improving.
“All those guys have really answered the challenge, and we feel much better right now about being able to roll guys like we like to up front. We're going to do that, and we feel good about the ability to do that because of how they've gone through camp."
The depth has to be able to sub in and keep Cummings and Orr fresh. The emphasis of the Florida strength and conditioning program has been finishing late in the games. To do that, the young backups need to make plays on reps in the first three quarters so that Cummings and Orr still have their energy late in the game.
“We kind of hang our hat on how we’re going to finish games and play in the fourth quarter,” Durkin said. “It sure helps when you haven’t played the whole game to play a great fourth quarter.”
In front of the young defensive linemen, Durkin has seen Cummings and Orr get more comfortable this offseason. They were thrown into the fire and got more reps last season when Dominique Easley was lost for the season. Durkin thinks both seniors are now ready for starting jobs heading into their final years.
“Those guys, they have a bunch of playing experience,” Durkin said. “They have a bunch of snaps in games. To them, it’s nothing new other than their roles are now stepping up in terms of number of snaps and how they’ve got to produce. They’ll be fine. They’ve embraced that, they know that, they have the ability to do that. Great players move on and it’s who’s going to be next?”
FOUR TRUSTED LINEBACKERS: There’s a clear four linebackers that will get on the field more than the others this fall. Will Muschamp said it on Monday, and Durkin said it again on Thursday that Neiron Ball, Jarrad Davis, Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor can all get on the field and make plays.
“We have four inside linebackers right now that all have playing experience and I feel great about,” Durkin said. “We can go win anywhere with (them).”
“They don’t have as much playing experience, but I feel really good about where they’re at,” Durkin said. “They’ve done a great job with their snaps, they’ve really improved. And again, I think our depth there is really strong.”
Morrison is the one that looks most improved this fall. He played at 240 pounds last season but is down to 220-225 pounds this fall. The dropped weight has made him quicker on the field.
“He has had a great camp,” Durkin said. “He has always been a guy very serious about football, practices hard and all those things. I think he has taken that to another level. His preparation off the field is as strong as it is on the field. He really understands how important this year is for him.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s approaching things and being a leader to other guys. He’s grabbing the defense when he has to. I expect him to have a great year.”
Matt Rolin is recovering after tearing his ACL for the second time last fall, and the coaches continue to take it slow with him. He has been practicing in individual and position drills, but they’re holding him out of 11-on-11 drills to be safe.
JACKSON TURNING HEADS: J.C. Jackson has been in a non-contact jersey through most of camp and still is as Florida starts preparing for Idaho. Durkin emphasized that it was just a precaution, and he will play in the secondary this fall.
“He’s got all the ability in the world,” Jackson said. “He’s going to be playing out there. You’ll see him on the field. Not being there in the spring, he was behind the learning curve a little bit. He caught up fine and we feel good about where he is responsibility-wise, especially as we hone in on through camp we install a lot of things. Now that we get into game week, we try to narrow it down. I think he’ll be fine.”