Defensive Line Should be Most Improved

If you are a Gator fan, you are very likely looking forward to this season with a lot of anticipation. With so many players returning from last season's national championship team, there doesn't seem to be a lot of worry for the fans. To the contrary, one question fans may have is how can this team improve on last year? Look for there to be the most improvement up front on defense.

It's not as if Florida was a slouch on defense. The Gators finished ninth nationally in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. But in statistics that are normally attributed to the defensive front, the Gators finished 32nd in sacks with 34 and ranked 88th in tackles for loss. These are numbers they are most certainly trying to improve on.

A year ago there wasn't a senior to be found on the entire defense. On the defensive line there was only one junior that was playing any significant minutes in starting end Jermaine Cunningham. Everyone is back outside of transfer Torrey Davis. Now all of those sophomores and one junior are juniors and one senior. It appears that they are all on track to be better than they were a year ago.

For Florida defensive Line Coach Dan McCarney, there is a little bit more at ease this season than a year ago. There is also a lot of anticipation to get this season underway.

"There is a sense of calm, pride, and confidence," McCarney told the media on Tuesday. "This time last year Jermaine Cunningham was the only one that had significant playing time and we have lots of guys that have played now. We just keep the accelerator down, that is what we do as assistants. Every day we see mistakes and room for improvement. That is what we try and correct and improve on."

Cunningham along with super freak defensive end Carlos Dunlap appear to be the headliners on the line this season. McCarney has been especially pleased with how Cunningham has handled everything and come into his senior season with the attitude of wanting to be the best player he can be.

"He made some big game changing plays (last year) and we are hoping he can come along and be one of the top players in college football this year," McCarney said of Cunningham. "I know he wants that, I do, Coach Meyer does, our defense needs that and if has the ability and experience and the hunger, then why not go do it.

"He's had a great camp and he's graded out the highest. I have graded everything since we started practice. I do that with the defensive line. It has worked out pretty good and I am proud of him."

With Cunningham, Dunlap and juniors Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens providing the pressure from the outside, look for the pressure inside to increase significantly. Last year's starters at defensive tackle, juniors Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh, are back and are a year wiser to the system. Sophomore Jaye Howard may beat Sanders at one position to start the season. Freshman Omar Hunter has had a great camp and was a non factor last year. Senior Troy Epps and junior Brandon Antwine have also had their moments in camp.

The next for this defensive front is for that front to push the pocket back into the waiting arms of their All-American defensive ends and McCarney can see some of that happening this season.

"That is Howard, Sanders, Marsh, Omar Hunter, Sanders, Epps, Brandon Antwine, they are responsible for the push and collapse and getting more pressure inside when you are bringing the speed off the edge," McCarney said. "You get those quarterbacks to step up. You guys are on scholarship, get your butt around the quarterback's neck and lets get some pressure."

There is a lot of competition at practice every day and if things go right McCarney can see playing as many as 12 guys in the first two games. That isn't to say he will have a 12 man rotation down the line, but at least his troops are working hard to push the others.

"We will finalize our evaluations, and if everyone is healthy I would like to play about a dozen guys Saturday night," McCarney said. "I have a couple of guys with minor things right now, nothing major."

McCarney knows the work at practice will pay off on the field. One guy fuels on the other until game day comes and they can take it out on a team that doesn't have nearly the same horses.

"I love it, the competition has been great," he said. "I love my room. I have 18 guys in there and two coaches,with 20 of us in there we are anxious to go play."

And they will, this Saturday at 7 p.m.


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