SPRING: What to look for on defensive line

The defensive line may be the strongest unit on the Florida roster in 2006. Coming off of a very good 2005 campaign, the line does lose Jeremy Mincey who was a stalwart at defensive end. The rest of the unit is intact and looks ready to unleash on opponents offenses. The Gators should have quality inside and out on the defensive line.

Three seniors will likely start on day one and two of those will come at defensive tackle. The top tackle prospect on the team is senior Marcus Thomas (6-3, 290). Down from where he was over 300 pounds in the fall, Thomas became a force last year. He gained his weight whole rehabbing a back injury from the season before and my guess is he was told he would be better off losing some of the weight. Thomas is quick and strong and a load for anyone opposite him on the line.

What I want to see this spring: Stay healthy. If it means keeping the weight down m then that is what is most important. He seemed to play through any injury last year and played very well, he just needs to help the younger guys this spring.

Senior defensive tackle Steven Harris (6-4, 285) is also a returning starter up front. Harris was consistent but never stood out on the line after starting the entire season. Being inside for the first time may have made everything new, but he needs to step it up his senior season.

What I want to see this spring: With Thomas or Joe Cohen next to him Harris should be able to get single blocking in front of him. He needs to take advantage and use his quick feet to make plays. I want him to stand out instead of showing up for a days work.

Senior Joe Cohen (6-2, 292) will likely stay at defensive tackle after playing running back and then end in previous years. The 292 is definitely the heaviest he has been but Cohen has the quick feet coaches love on the inside. He has the strength of a bear and can cause nightmares if he stays aggressive.

What I want to see: Show that aggressive side. As a defensive end Cohen was a great run stopper but never made the push deep to be a dominant pass rusher. He needs to use his strength, quickness, and speed to make the guy in front of him work. Cohen is a freakish athlete with his ability and needs to utilize those tools. Now is the time.

For junior Clint McMillan (6-1, 282), it's all about speed. A tad undersized, McMillan has to use his speed to be effective at this level of competition. He is brutally strong, but the bigger offensive linemen can negate that just by overpowering him with their size.

What I want to see this spring: Don't fight it. McMillan needs to use the tools he was born with and run the offensive linemen crazy when he has the chance. Don't let them swallow him up by making them move and using your strength from a distance when possible.

One guy we keep hearing positive vibes on is sophomore Branden Daniel (6-3, 290). Last season he was injured and in a cast while several upper classmen kept all the playing time from him. This is a good spring, while others are maybe resting, to show what he can really do. He's got good size and decent quickness.

What I want to see this spring: Daniel is one guy that would make the coaches smile if he could step up. He needs to not sit around and watch the older guys just because they may be better than him now, he needs to get in there and put his nose to the grindstone and show the staff what he is made of.

The Gators certainly lost a good one in Mincey. He led the Gators in tackles through most of the season and pursued the ball relentlessly. The Gators still have their share of talent at the position.

One guy we won't see any of this spring is senior defensive end Ray McDonald (6-3, 280). Two knee injuries and surgeries will keep him from participating this spring. A full recovery is expected in the fall and of course no one knows exactly how that will turn out. If he is back to his old form, McDonald has one of the quickest steps off the line in America.

What I want to see this spring: Just rehab it and get back healthy. Mentor the young guys with anything they may need.

The best surprise of last season in my opinion was junior defensive end Jarvis Moss (6-6, 252). Moss led the Gators in sacks while only really playing in passing situations. He started last spring at 216 pounds and his added 36 pounds will allow him to play more and probably be the weak side pass rusher. I suspect Moss will destroy whatever tackle he lines up against this spring. He is absolutely explosive off the snap and uses his arm to get away from blockers. No Gator lineman I can remember runs quicker to the quarterback after the snap outside of maybe Jevon Kearse.

What I want to see this spring: I want to see him display this stuff. He will be a nightmare for the young offensive tackles, but it will be good for them. The coaches want him to stay about at the weight he is now so as to keep his speed.

Another defensive end with great athletic ability is sophomore Derrick Harvey (6-4, 260). Harvey isn't as broad in the shoulders as Moss and therefore he doesn't have quite the wingspan, but he still has long arms and can run to the ball. Depending on the health of McDonald early in the year, I suspect Harvey may be the starter opposite Moss in the beginning.

What I want to see this spring: Show the strength to run the strong side end and make this be as dominant a defensive end unit in recent memory. This is his spring to really make a mark and let the staff know he is a player.

One enigma up front on defense is sophomore Javier Estopinan (6-1, 280). He is somewhere between an end and a tackle and probably behind in terms of knowing what to do. He came to UF as a 240 pound linebacker and quickly added unneeded weight.

What I want to see this spring: Estopinan needs to show he belongs somewhere, either tackle or end. I'm not really sure what tools he has for either position because he was injured all of last season and did not perform. Like a few others, he needs to make this a spring to catch the coaches' attention, or possibly lose any chance he has of really making a name for himself at Florida.

One player I don't know much about is freshman Darryl Gresham (6-1, 260). Coming to Gainesville as a middle linebacker last year, Gresham grew out of that and now has a real chance to make a name for himself at end. I don't expect Estopinan to contend, and is McDonald is late getting healthy. Gresham has a real opportunity at the position.

What I want to see this spring: Gresham should have the speed needed for the position as a pass rusher. I know he played very aggressively in high school and was tenacious when confronted with his opponents. That could bode well in the attack scheme the Gators employ on defense. Making a statement this spring would certainly solidify the two deep in the fall at the position.

In all the 2006 season looks very promising up front on defense for the Gators. Preparing some young players for their roles as backups and in the future should be a key aspect to what the staff does on the defensive line this spring.

Next we will take a look at a talented, but still rather thin linebacker corps.


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