Gators Limping into Tallahassee on DL

The Florida Gators have been relatively injury free in this 2008 season and the competition among healthy players has made the team that much better as a result. With three games left on the schedule the Gators suddenly face an issue along the defensive front. The Gators lost two defensive linemen to injury during The Citadel game and have to prepare for them not to be back soon.

The defensive line play in 2008 has been one of the biggest improvements from a season ago where the Gators really struggled on defense. This current Gator team stands 3rd in the country in scoring defense in large part to its play up front. Saturday, two prominent parts of that defensive front went down when starting sophomore nose tackle Lawrence Marsh and sometimes staring freshman defensive tackle Matt Patchan went down with knee injuries in the contest.

The Gators will definitely be without Patchan, probably for the rest of the season. They are hopeful to get Marsh back this week but he will miss a lot of time in practice leading up to the game regardless. Junior nose tackle Brandon Antwine filled in for Marsh and did well, but he is still nursing a back injury and will also miss a lot of practice time this week.

Head Coach Urban Meyer recognized the issue publicly Monday and knows the Gators are going to have to get some young guys ready to play more than they are used to.

"We have a little problem there," Meyer said. "The good thing is that Brandon Antwine is getting real healthy. He won't practice both Tuesday and Wednesday because of his back issue, so we are hoping to get 30 plays out of him. There is a chance we will move Torrey Davis to Nose. At three technique that will give you Terron Sanders and Jaye Howard, so we're very thin at that spot right now. We are hoping that Marsh can give us something in the ball game."

Defensive line coach Dan McCarney has been consistent all season in playing a number of defensive linemen and rotating players in. It has been a season of blow out victories which have allowed some younger and inexperienced guys to get more work than they normally have. McCarney is ready for others to pick it up for the wounded warriors.

"We'll just roll guys in there...Jaye Howard, Terron Sanders, Brandon Antwine," McCarney said. "Brandon Antwine played great (Saturday), he played outstanding he had one minus (play) with all the work he had. We will find a way to put a good defensive line on the field, we have to. (Antwine) got his most substantial time along with Torrey Davis, both did a lot of good things. That is what I talked about when I got here. You have to build some depth because you are going to get some guys nicked...this isn't tennis. There is contact and collisions and unfortunately there are injuries.

McCarney has a good idea where the injured players stand as possibilities of coming back. The preparation will go as if Marsh won't be back for the game with rival Florida State this week.

"Patchan is definitely out and Marsh is questionable," McCarney said. "Patchan won't be back for quite some time. You never know with Marsh, it's not nearly as severe. We have to be ready like he's not going to be there and if he gets back then great, we'll use him."

The Gators have also decided to try and redshirt freshman nose tackle Omar Hunter. Hunter had his arm in a sling as late as last week with an injury and hasn't played since early in the season. They are also without junior college transfer Troy Epps for the rest of the season who is also out with a knee injury. The numbers on the inside of the defensive line are getting thin, but McCarney knows they are just going to have to figure out a way to get it done.

"Those guys inside have to play both positions," he said of the nose and defensive tackle positions. "We will make sure they can play both by kickoff on Saturday."

One player McCarney and company may be getting unexpected help from is sophomore Torrey Davis. Davis has had to deal with his issues off the field and that has left him off the playing field for most of the season. McCarney liked what he did against The Citadel and believes he can get good work out of against the Seminoles.

"Torrey Davis had a good day," McCarney said of his effort on Saturday. "He played 44 plays and has to learn from (Saturday). He did some real good things and he needs to remember how he did those and learn from the mistakes. That's a 315 pounder that is starting to learn the defense and do some positive things to our guys."

The FSU offensive line has probably played a little over their heads this season. They come in without a single upperclassman in the two-deep along the line. McCarney knows his guys will have to play well against this young group.

"They are athletic, they run, they pull," McCarney said. "They dominated a Maryland team that hadn't lost a game at home. I think they are real athletic line and much better than a year ago, they are well coached, it's a good bunch."

The Gators themselves are pretty young along the defensive line and boast only two upperclassmen in their ranks. Juniors Brandon Antwine and Jermaine Cunningham will be asked to lead this young group into a hostile crowd in Tallahassee. They have played better than most expected all season.

"We are such a young unit," Antwine said Sunday. "I really didn't expect us to gel this quickly and how good we did."

Antwine thinks the sped up process of this line is due to the way the guys talk to each other and get along up front. They have become a close unit.

"We really communicate a lot," he said. "Last year we didn't do too much and just went through the motions. We were really young last year and pretty much the same, so communication has been a big improvement for our group."

Sophomore Terron Sanders said a little motivation went a long way with this group. Lawrence Marsh was key with a big spring and then following it up with a strong preseason camp.

"We've come a tremendous way," Sanders said of this group of defensive linemen. "Lawrence Marsh sparked it for us in camp. Myself, I said I have to get up there with that, I'm not going to sit on the bench this year. The competition has been great, it's bringing out the best in us every week."

That competition has led to the defensive line becoming a strength both in quality and quantity. That strength will be tested this week with the injuries, but Sanders expects the younger and less experienced guys to step in and make some plays.

"We rotate people that are backups and they don't play like backups," Sanders said. "They come in and Coach McCarney is always preaching, 'when you are on the field, you're a starter.' It doesn't matter what it says on the depth chart. When you are the field, you are a starter, so play like it...It makes you feel good knowing that if we have to go to a backup that we aren't going to see a drop off at all."

Antwine should be there to contribute and that in and of itself may be somewhat of a miracle. A year ago at this time Antwine couldn't even walk. He wondered if he would ever walk again, much less play football. Saturday he went in on the second play of the game and played a lot of snaps. He will take it easy this week in practice so he doesn't over do it

"When it first happened I thought I would never walk again," he said. "The doctors weren't too sure what was going on, so that got me worried about how things would go for me in my future. Rehabbing and keeping the faith. I asked God for a miracle every day. I just bought into my rehab person and doing everything they told me to do. Once I started walking without my cane, I thought there would be some hope for me.

"Mentally I am going full speed. My health is about 95% right now, so that is the only thing I feel I am lacking right now. I have the pain every day, it's just a matter of how much it is and how I deal with it...Sometimes it is real bad, it's hard to explain because I have never felt anything like it before."

Over doing it is the biggest concern for Antwine.

"The only thing that can make it worse is doing a lot of reps at one time," he said. "Sometimes I have to take a break just to chill out and rest it back up again. After a while, I will be alright."

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