UF Defensive Line Returns Experience, Talent

It isn't a big secret anymore that the Florida Gators return almost their entire two-deep on defense to defend their national championship. On the defensive line, there are a slew of athletes to throw at offenses, and coach Dan McCarney is chomping at the bit to get going and coach his veterans up. McCarney expects the regulars to get better with maturation and maybe some young guys to step up.

The leader of the line should be senior Jermaine Cunningham. Cunningham comes off a strong 2008 performance, but one that should have probably been better. He sees a very positive senior season for Cunningham,and projects that he will make big strides in his last year.

"He has a lot of room to improve," McCarney said of Cunningham. "I know what it takes to be an All-American, but he has lots of room to improve. He is about 257 pounds and will be close to 260 pounds and I think a much better player. There is no doubt he will have better senior year than he has had so far."

Opposite Cunningham should be a junior talent that is starting to make a name for himself. Carlos Dunlap led the Gators in sacks last season with 9.5 and will be a true junior. McCarney says that Dunlap is preparing like this should be a special year for him.

"Mickey Marotti can't say enough about his work ethic this summer," McCarney said of the Gator strength coach's video of Dunlap. "I think there is some maturity going on with him and he needed that. With the maturity comes more responsibility with the way you carry yourself and the way you work. There hasn't been one issue off the field. Academically, he takes care of himself and he is always good with his tutors and stuff. He has really turned it up since he got back from the surgery that he had."

Adding depth to the line are two seasoned juniors that McCarney links together. Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens have played since their true freshmen seasons and both will have a big impact on this 2009 year as the Gators try and defend their national championship.

"Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens are two peas in a pod," McCarney said. "They are bookends and everything I am looking forward to in the game of football. Both are over 260 pounds. Justin missed a lot of spring with his shoulder, but he is 100% now. He and Duke are really doing well. They can play any position, they have football sense and common sense and can play anywhere on our board."

One more end that will get a lot of work is sophomore William Green. Green has improved himself physically, gaining 29 pounds to hit the scales at 235 now. That weight will go along way for a guy that McCarney says never stops.

"You won't recognize him if you see him," McCarney said of Green. "No one has a better work ethic that Willie Green on our football team. He has really been dedicated to putting weight on,. He has three more years and it is what college football is all about, coaching guys like Willie Green.

"His motor, tenacity, relentlessness, and effort is on every play until he almost drops. He will just not back off or will not take a play off at all. That is why he has a chance to be a great player."

On the inside both starting tackles return. Junior nose Lawrence Marsh and junior tackle Terron Sanders were solid last season, but McCarney wants a little more than solid in year two from this duo.

"Both were tremendous success stories on our championship team," he said. "This is a whole different deal now and instead of playing just a handful of snaps the season before they are coming back as returning starters. Sanders missed all of spring ball so we are a little behind there, but I expect both of those guys to be veterans and play aggressive. One thing they clearly have to improve on is as pass rushers. Charlie (Strong) calls them our run stuffers, but we want to put them guys on the field and get more rush on the passer."

One pleasant surprise this spring was the play of interior lineman and sophomore Jaye Howard. Howard moved inside from end after he quit fighting weight gain, although McCarney said he went a little too far before spring ball.

"Jaye Howard is a guy we are looking to get more consistency," McCarney said. "With that consistency comes more productivity and then more playing time. I really like his effort this spring. He is an inside guy for good now, and needs to know both the nose and tackle positions. He got too big in the winter and his foot speed was too slow. Now he's down to 290 and we are getting good words about how he is working out. He has to step up and make a major contribution and I'd like to see that."

One player there has been a lot of uncertainty about is Brandon Antwine. The junior from Texas has had a career of injuries so far including one that almost kept him out of football. McCarney believes Antwine may be able to help this year.

"Everything is full speed ahead right now," McCarney said of Antwine. "He's about 98% in recovery from the ACL. We are going to be real smart about it and there may be some days where we hold him out of parts of practice. We are going to make sure he is ready to go in that opening game. He won't be sitting around watching, but just limiting him. He was playing outstanding football when he got hurt last year."

The Gators added two junior college defensive linemen in the last two recruiting classes and so far, neither are about to make it into the lineup on game days. Edwin Herbert showed upon campus in January while Troy Epps is in his final year after playing sparingly as a junior last season.

"Herbert is not in the two-deep coming out of spring ball," McCarney said. "He will have to show major improvement. He really needed to reshape his body and had bad overall body strength. He lost a lot of bad weight, but has put some good weight back on. Two-a-days are going to be really critical for him because coming out of spring ball I couldn't put him on the field and really trust him. But, he has done everything we have asked and has a great attitude and I am hoping he can help us somewhere.

"Epps is doing everything now and another guy like Antwine coming off of that ACL knee. I could care less how much he benches right now, it has nothing to do with his ability to play. He has to get quicker and faster,more agile, and more mobile...he knows it and we talked about it. I'm not talking about plugging a hole, I am talking about playing big time Florida Gator defensive line football and I'm hoping he will be able to do that for us."

Two youngsters that are still feeling their oats on the line are redshirt freshmen Earl Okine and Omar hunter. McCarney is still trying to figure out where Okine will fit on the line, while Hunter has a chance to be a good one this season.

"Okine is a utility guy," McCarney said meaning he could play end or tackle. "He isn't where we need him to be in the rotation yet, that is what camp is for. I am hoping he will be in that (rotation). He and Omar are very similar. They are both in the same boat and if we were playing tomorrow, neither one of them would be in the rotation. Both of those guys are priority guys that I want to know if we put them in the game we can trust them and have earned it, but they aren't there yet."

The Gators added two more to the list of troops in the defensive trenches for the fall. True freshmen defensive tackle Gary Brown and defensive end Kedric Johnson came in on different levels of preparedness according to McCarney.

"I know Gary Brown came in bad physical condition, but that is because he was working hard to get in good academic standing," McCarney said. "Whether he will be physically ready and mature enough, we just don't know yet.

"Kedric came in real good condition. He's at 206 pounds. Size wise he is a lot like Willie Green was. I am not ruling him out. Can he play in our different packages? I won't know until I coach him. He is really working hard and the strength staff is really pleased with his effort so far. We will start him at Fox and depending on how big he gets down the road, he may be able to play both."

With all of the experience and maturity of this group, McCarney isn't expecting a change in ideology on the defense. He just his expects his troops to be better because of the maturation process.

"I don't think our style will change," he said. "You don't hold Oklahoma to 14 points without attacking and being physical up front. We aren't going to change our fundamentals or techniques, we just want to get better at them. With experience, more strength and more quality depth, that is what we are looking for."


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