Durkin proud of Fowler

Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin found out about Dante Fowler’s departure to the NFL the same way everyone else did.

He saw it on Twitter Tuesday night. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone in the football offices. Fowler is having a big junior season, totaling 4.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries, and was expected to leave early. He’s also tied for second on the team with 49 tackles.

As always, this Florida staff doesn’t evaluate defensive linemen by their sack number. The goal for the pass rush is to affect the quarterback, and Fowler has done that this season. Even when he doesn’t get the sack, he’s able to make the quarterback move in the pocket, setting up a sack for another player or forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away.

“I think he’s had a bunch of nice games,” D.J. Durkin said about Dante Fowler. “I think he’s playing great. He’s a very disruptive guy. He’s a guy that’s accounted for every time he lines up by the opposition, they have a plan for him and he’s overcome that and been very disruptive and he’s played great for us.

“He’s played hard, he’s played consistently. He’s made a bunch of plays in the backfield, and when he wasn’t, he’s creating it for someone else a lot of the time. I’m very happy with how he’s played, and I think the world of him as a player and a person.”

The coaches challenged Fowler in the offseason to take the next step. He was inconsistent during the 2013 season, having breakout games where he looked unblockable and then not making an impact the next week. He got off to a hot start to the 2013 season -- including a game against Tennessee with three tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and one sack -- but then disappeared as the season went on.

The coaches noticed it, and Fowler did, too. They challenged him to treat every spring practice like he was playing in a game, and soon after, Fowler became impossible for teammates to block. He learned how to study the game, something he credits Will Muschamp for, during the spring and it showed in his play.

That dominance has translated to the fall.

“Dante is a terrific football player and unbelievable guy to coach,” Durkin said. “I love coaching him. I’m not an NFL expert, but I think Dante is a really good player who will be drafted high.”

Fowler might not be the last defensive player to make that decision. Jonathan Bullard and Antonio Morrison could follow, and even Brian Poole said on Tuesday that he would talk to Muschamp and the defensive staff before making a decision.

They’ll have those conversations when the regular season comes to an end and decide what the players will do.

“Those guys are really good football players,” Durkin said. “There’s enough ways to get information from the NFL nowadays that you can get better information back to say ‘this is where we think you may be drafted or selected.’ Big decisions like that are things you need to make with your family involved and people around you.”

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