"Going into fall camp last year we had a bunch of guys that were inexperienced and had to move two offensive linemen over to help shore up the defensive line. We had Darrel Lee and Bobby McCray, but Lee had problems along the way, injuries or whatever so he hadn't played that much. Bobby had always been inconsistent and never been a starter and was having difficulties. But those were our two older guys (on the defensive line), everyone else hadn't touched the field. We knew we were young, we hoped that the secondary would come through for us and we kind of relied on them to help give us experience. It wasn't a mystery. Up front we were young and inexperienced, which is not a good combination. The guys played hard and we used a lot of them.
Kenny Parker is a young man who was older and we would have liked him to play more, he actually played more than we thought he would. But he has had three back operations and he hadn't touched the field before and kind of came out of the woodwork to help us."
Let's get in to the known quantities this year. Whatever questions there were about the starting group appear to be resolved this time. Tell us about them?
"Last year's liabilities are this year's positives. All those guys that were young and inexperienced have now played and been in the battles and have the experience which is a big, big plus. To be able to be in the big games, playing LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and just about everyone you play in the SEC; these guys having that experience alone in a big plus for us. They have all stayed here this summer and worked very hard.
Ray McDonald - everyone thought he weighed 250 pounds last year and he actually weighed about 268 pounds. Even at that he was an undersized tackle, but he was quick and aggressive. Now he is about 285 pounds, stronger, more powerful, and still just as quick and maybe faster. Hopefully he will be able to do more things to help us this year.
Marcus Thomas started coming on at the end of the year as a true freshman. It is almost unheard of to have a freshman starting; maybe one that plays spot duty, but not one that comes in and ends up starting the last half of the season. That says volumes about his ability. We are looking for him to be really strong and help us. He is a lot like Ray. They are both real quick, but not the biggest guys; in the SEC the tackles usually run about 300+ pounds. These guys are both about 285, so they are really quick, but also very strong. Quickness and athletic ability set those two apart."
What combo of defensive tackles you've coached do they most resemble?
"Brad Culpepper and Tony McCoy. Tony may have been more of a plugger, but they were both quick like these two."
The big question for most Gators at the defensive tackle position is: Who will be the back-ups?
Theoretically you would like Kenny Parker and Eric Holcombe. Kenny we have slated there dependent on whether he is able to do it physically. He still has some problems with his back, but he has come so far considering where he was. He is kind of a question mark and don't know what he's going to be able to do. We are hoping, because if he's able to contribute, there is a guy that has been in the heat of the battle and has done well and is a good football player. There is never a question about his effort and he is a 300 pounder. If he is able to perform he will be the third tackle.
Eric Holcombe has struggled from the time he has been here. He is really going to have to prove himself whether he is going to be able to do it. He is a guy that has played and has some experience, but he is still struggling.
Michael Hill had both shoulders operated on since he has been here. One was hurt in high school and unfortunately he hurt the other one in the off-season last year. He actually passed out during workouts and went to Shands for a while. His condition was a potassium deficiency. Luckily it was something that was easily treatable and it has been taken care of. According to the strength coaches he is vastly improved and has himself in good shape. He is more of a plugger than the starters, but has decent speed. A lot remains to be seen because I haven't been able to see him. He is more of a mature young man and an aggressive player. My inclination is that Michael Hill is the shining star among all of our young guys and has a chance. My knee jerk reaction is he will be able to fill that spot in there.
After that we have Clint McMillan who was a red-shirt freshman and got hurt. He is a young man that isn't the biggest guy but his attributes are his quickness, his aggressiveness, and he's one of the strongest guys on the team. Of course with his knee injury he lost a step or two and lost some effectiveness. Now he has had a chance to go through the off season and get back to normal and it will be interesting to see how he has progressed.
Julian Riley is another young man that hurt his ankle and is trying to come back from that. He has some ability, decent size and quickness. We will have to see what he can do.
Brandon Daniels a true freshmen that showed up for spring practice and he is a 300+ guy. Towards the end of spring he really came along.
Mike Brown is a true freshman and shows a lot of promise. He is going to be a good football player and probably one of those 300+ pound guys. Right now he is about 290 and he came in about 275 to 278, so just starting out in the weight program he has gained good size. His high school didn't have much of a weight program so he is somewhat of a novice there and he has a lot to learn. I don't foresee -- and I may be wrong -- him doing a lot this year. He may surprise me, I don't know.
Dwayne Norris is a walk on player who is a senior player that really works hard.
I guess of all the young guys you have Mike Hill, Clint McMillan, Julian Riley, and Brandon Daniels; they are all young people underneath that will battle it out to try and get into the two deep rotation. On paper we are thinking a Kenny Parker and Mike Hill. Maybe an Eric Holcombe will come alive."
How important is it to develop depth for the defensive tackle position?
"We like to play at least a two deep defensive line. A lot of times last year we played 5 and 6 guys inside. Back when Brad Culpepper and Tony McCoy were here, we were thin in the ranks. The philosophy in the league is a lot different than it was back then. Offenses are a lot more spread out and they are throwing the ball all over the place and hurry up offense. One of the most exhausting things you can do as a defensive lineman is rush the quarterback. So, you have to be able to keep guys fresh. We looked at ourselves last year and of the 4 regular season games we lost, we lost 3 of those games in the last 2 minutes of the game, which means we really got beat down a little bit. We really want to make guys fresh so when we want to make that big push in the fourth quarter, we are ready for it. The numbers game and inexperience caught up with us last year. We are looking to have some guys that will be able to come in and relieve them and give them a rest.
When you have sustained drives of 12, 15, or 17 plays, it takes a lot out of you. It has a cumulative effect late in the game. We try getting those guys in and out quick. It's also prerequisite on what our own offense is doing. If they are on and off in 3 plays it hurts us.
We feel like we are a lot stronger right now on the front since we have been here."
Coach Red's optimism is high as far as the defensive tackle position is concerned. The starters are set and the numbers behind them should dictate that someone can step up and help out. The off-season has been very productive and the defensive front seems to have come out of it in great shape. This was a position of concern last year and it should be a fun position to watch this year.