The Florida defensive coaches are still getting to know the players they have. Their focus has been on the recruiting trail since getting to Gainesville, and all of the assistants besides the coordinators have only been able to watch the team play in the Birmingham Bowl win over East Carolina.
Dante Fowler was the focal point for opposing offenses last season. He saw double teams and the opposition tried to take him out of the game, but it rarely worked. With him gone, the new Florida staff will start building its defense after National Signing Day comes to an end.
Getting Jonathan Bullard back will be an important part of it.
He was sixth on the team last year with 52 tackles. Bullard was second on the team with 8.5 tackles for a loss and also second with 12 quarterback hurries, behind only Fowler in both categories.
Bullard’s position next season is also up in the air. He played defensive end as a freshman, split time between end and tackle as a sophomore and a junior. However, most of his reps in his last two seasons came at defensive tackle. His versatility will be important as defensive line coach Terrell Williams looks to build what he wants on that side of the ball.
“Any time you’ve got a guy that’s played a lot of snaps and was projected to go somewhere in the draft -- to get him back, that’s a big deal,” said Williams, who served as the defensive line coach for the Oakland Raiders over the last three years. “We feel like we can help him improve his draft status.”
On the field, Bullard’s impact is important. The Gators lose Darious Cummings and Leon Orr at defensive tackle. At end, Florida loses only Fowler. Bullard could be more useful inside based on numbers, but the Gators will have to find a pass rush on the outside if they do play Bullard at defensive tackle.
Just as important as what Bullard does on the field, he’s a leader in the defensive line room for a group of young players. They looked up to him and Fowler in 2014, and with Fowler being gone, Bullard becomes the sole leader of the group. That’s important regardless of the season, but it becomes even more important in a transition year.
The new coaching staff understands how important Bullard’s return can be for the 2015 team.
"As I’m meeting with the defensive players, one of the first questions I ask them is 'who are the leaders? Who are the guys by effort or by words or actions, are the ones that kind of get everybody going?' Almost to a man, his name comes up,” Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said about Bullard. “So having somebody that's obviously a great player, obviously very versatile in what he's able to do defensively for us. But his leadership ability, him coming back is huge."