McCarney's Troops Making Plays

The Florida Gators were looking to improve on the defensive line from the 2007 season and so far this season it looks like they have done just that. Without playing any juggernauts yet this season, it is quite apparent the defense has made strides over last season. It all starts up front and Defensive Line Coach Dan McCarney could see it coming.

When he first arrived on campus McCarney knew he had some talent to work with, but after watching film from last year he had concerns about how much work was going to have to be done to turn this potential into a force in the SEC. His worries manifested themselves at the start of spring practice when his defensive line struggled and were really out-matched by a veteran and tough offensive line.

As the spring progressed McCarney started to see it happen. Player by player matured in front of his eyes and to the point where he could honestly believe he was going to have a strong unit this season.

"I told you last spring it was a real mismatch early, but I was real encouraged the last couple of weeks of spring when I thought there were no mismatches," McCarney said Monday following his team's beat down of rival Tennessee on the road. "That is when I told Charlie Strong I thought we had a chance if we kept building."

As mentioned, they haven't played any world beaters yet, but the signs are there and McCarney really likes the fact that he knows his unit can get better and he has some things to show them to get better.

"We have a long ways to go but the neat thing is we watch the tape and break it down," he said. "It's 30-6 and we hold their leading rusher to 37 yards and yet there are a whole lot of things we can get better at individually...which is real encouraging as a coach."

This week presents a different challenge in a team, that will try to throw the ball on Florida a little more than the three previous opponents. They faced three young but talented quarterbacks and will face another this week, but Ole Miss is much more inclined to air it out. McCarney believes Mississippi is a team to be reckoned with.

"Exactly, yet you saw what Marve did down at Texas A&M, he is talented guy and is really going to be special," McCarney said when asked about playing some young quarterbacks already this season. "We know there are a lot of things we have to get better at. We know each week it is going to get tougher.

"I thought Tennessee had a good offensive line I think Mississippi's is better. I think they had a good solid quarterback, I think this one is better. They use four running backs and I like them all. They don't put the ball on the ground,. I think they have speed. (Head Coach) Houston Nutt has made an impact in a short time.

"I don't think there is any doubt they are (better). I think their offense is definitely better than Tennessee's. It is an impressive offensive line. You go right down the front. It's an athletic offensive line that knows what they are doing. We have our work cut out for us. We have to play great defense again against a better offense."

One issue is game planning this week or more importantly, reacting differently to an opponent that will attack differently. Of course that is all part of the strategy of football and something this veteran defensive staff has been through the wars over.

"You have to be able to change it up, there is three-man rush, six-man rush, blitzes, coverage (changes) and we have to be able to compliment one another," McCarney said. "Even though we didn't get sacks on Saturday we still had timely pressures, we tipped four passes. That is all part of pass defense. Our guys know we have to get better and we will in practice this week."

One big guy McCarney will rely on Saturday is sophomore nose tackle Lawrence Marsh. Marsh has been a pleasant surprise after not really showing much until spring practice back in March and April. Now, he has emerged as one of the top players on defense.

"He wasn't lost, but didn't have a home," McCarney said of Marsh back when he first arrived to coach this unit. "We didn't know where he could play. He played a few snaps of goal line, but that was it. He played some nose, he played some end, he played some tackle and not very good at any of them. I worked him at tackle and nose...we finally found a home at nose. He has his teeth and heart into it (now), that is where he will finish his career at Florida. He's a nose and getting better each week."

There are a few physical attributes that make Marsh a good player for what this defense needs in a nose tackle. McCarney loves the young man's skill set.

"He has real good hand strength and upper body strength," McCarney said. "He can see things, read, and anchor versus double team blocks. At that position you aren't going to get a lot of sacks, but we have to be able to get a push and he works hard at that."

Along the line there is also competition. At one of the defensive end spots, sophomores Justin Trattou and Carlos Dunlap have been splitting time. Each has started this season and rather than say one is better than the other, McCarney likes both and knows both are going to help this squad a great deal.

"Real good, it's a healthy one," McCarney said of the competition between the two. "I like them both, they are sophomores and will leave great legacies in their careers but are still learning and improving. They both play defensive end, Trattou can play any position and has played three this year. Dunlap can't do that, he is an end. They both have talent, they have speed, they have quickness, they are SEC defensive linemen.

"I think (the competition) is healthy...good , it is what you like. If one guy relaxes, the other will play more. If one guy has a bad day, the other will play more. If one guy is off, the other guy will start. They know that. You like to have good quality depth without having to fabricate it. There is really good competition here right now and that is why I like really going to work every day with my guys."

If they keep playing like they are, McCarney won't want to go home every day and keep dreaming of ways to use his guys.

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