Cohen Finding A Groove At Defensive Tackle

Joe Cohen came to the University of Florida a much ballyhooed running back, a man child with tremendous speed to go with his awesome size. A year at running back followed by an unproductive year on the defensive line have taken some of the shine away on Cohen's star but in his third year in a Gator uniform the big guy from Melbourne Palm Bay is starting to play up to expectations.

The transition from running back to defensive end resulted in a season without much to show for the effort in 2004. Cohen spent all of the spring at defensive end but in August, he began playing mostly at defensive tackle. He will still move outside in the right situations or should injury deplete the defensive end depth, but it seems Cohen has finally found his niche. Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison likes the way Cohen has begun to assert himself, so much so that Mattison calls Cohen a starter even though the 6-2, 280-pounder comes off the bench. Cohen figures to be a key player in Florida's defense tonight when the Gators face off against Tennessee in The Swamp.

"I have said since I have been there that Joe is a starter," Mattison said this week. "It has taken him a while to get that down, that now he is a 3-technique (tackle) and an end. What a plus that is to be able to rotate him wherever we need to. He has done an unbelievable job on our special teams. He will play as much as the starters."

Coming in with the second wave of defenders, Mattison liked what he saw out of the entire second unit against Louisiana Tech Saturday. Cohen and company didn't have a drop off when they entered the game.

"We really talked about very strongly that we never wanted to give up a fourth quarter score," Mattison said. "That is important to our whole defense. We also want to prove that we have depth and have guys that can go into the ball game and help us win it. (The backups) played a whole quarter and I was very proud of them and how hard they played. They stepped it up and were much better in this game than they were the week before. We are starting to develop the backups I am looking for."

Seeing the guys doing it in game action is what he was looking for. It is a whole different scenario in a practice format than in front of all the people in the stands on game day.

"It is very important, because it shows that they are going to do what we ask them to do under the lights," he said. "Doing it in practice is fine, but doing it in front of 93,000 in The Swamp, that's special. They have to earn the right to do that and appreciate that right. If they don't take advantage and play like their supposed to, then they don't deserve to play."

Phil Trautwein(left) and Joe Cohen mix it up.

A true junior, Cohen came to Florida as a tailback. He was moved to fullback as a freshman but he never saw the field much. Now in his second year on the defensive line, he's just starting to mature and grow into the position change.

"Joe Cohen is growing up," Mattison said. "That is all that happens to young guys. He is growing up and buying in. He has unbelievable pride, he wants to be good and he is starting to play very good. Joe is special.

"Joe has only played defense for one year. He was a running back. He was a very talented athlete in high school and has never really played defense. I think it is remarkable as to how fast he is picking things up. Again, it comes back to what is inside of him, he has great pride."

That pride translated to an award this week as Cohen was listed as being in the Champion Club for the Louisiana Tech game. It was an honor bestowed upon him and only five others on the team in a blowout victory over Louisiana Tech. Earning Champion recognition was made more special by the fact that his old high school teammates from Palm Bay --- Reggie Nelson and Mike Degory --- were also honored.

"It feels good to make any club on this team especially with the hard work we put in," Cohen said. "Coach says the harder you work the more it will show."

Cohen also is proud that Reggie Nelson is getting the chance to contribute. Nelson signed with the Gators on the same day as Cohen but he had to take a two-year detour to junior college.

"It is about time," Cohen said, speaking of Nelson. "Reggie put in that hard work. I think he deserves the world, he has been through a lot and now he is here. Now as you can see he is making the best of it."

Having Nelson on the field with him at the same time gave Cohen flashbacks during the Louisiana Tech game. On one play, Cohen made a move inside and got to the quarterback only to see the Louisiana Tech signal caller escape. Instead of getting away completely, though, Nelson came in to finish the play off, just as he did in high school.

"It was exactly like being Palm Bay, he stole my damn sack," Cohen laughed. "It brought back old memories with Mike Degory smiling on the sideline. That was a hell of a play made by Reggie."

Cohen has been asked to double train and learn the end and tackle positions. He is a quick learner and the mental part of the game comes easy to Cohen. It has been the physical part of playing on the defensive line and the different techniques involved that has had to catch up. He says playing both positions isn't as hard as it sounds.

"Not difficult, I have great coaches," Cohen said. "It is fun playing tackle and end. You get a piece of the inside and a piece of the outside. Right now I feel like I can play anywhere on the line and be successful because the coaching that I have gotten not just from the coaches but from my fellow defensive linemen. I feel like my technique has gotten better and everything."

The Gators have fielded a very young defense over the last two years, especially up front. The pains that the defense went through could be attribute to youth and inexperience. Cohen just sees the maturation of him and his line mates as the reason for progress on the field.

"All the defensive linemen grew one way or another," he said. "They either matured or got better skill wise. Myself, I think I got better at my skills. Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas just matured and their mentality out there now is to show they are the best two out there in college."

The line is on a mission to make people know who they are. A little respect that has to be earned and hasn't yet is what they are hoping to attain through the season. It's going to take a unit getting better week in and week out.

"Just like every week we are bringing it up another notch," he said. "Starting today we were more focused. We are trying to prove we are one of the best out there. Through coaching and our talent, by the end of the season hopefully we show that."

On a defensive line that is full of promise and potential. One that has shown real signs of progress and becoming a dominant front, Joe Cohen is earning the right to say he is one of the best. His ability and upside is as good as any along the front line. Gregg Mattison agrees.

"He is right with the other guys, there is no question about it," Mattison said. "I just think he is a very talented guy and a great person."

Fightin Gators Top Stories