Spring Outlook: Defensive Line

The Florida Gators are looking to replace two stars at defensive end and this spring will be used to try and push some of the younger players across the line to make a move. There is plenty of talent and experience across the line of scrimmage, and the tackle position has experience, talent, and depth. There are 13 players fighting for spots this spring and it should be exciting to watch.

Wednesday is the start of spring practice and the Gators have a decent feel for what they have up front on defense. The defensive end position is a little bit of an unknown, but there are a few players with experience on the outside. We start with the strong side ends.

Justin Trattou (SR. 6-3, 265) emerges as one starter on the strong side and Gator fans know what he can do. Trattou is a high motor guy that has a knack more making the surprising play...a tipped ball, interception, etc. Trattou will be one of the team leaders on defense with his intellect and his drive to play hard all the time. That is what we will look for this spring from Justin.

Duke Lemmens (SR. 6-3, 260) enters his final campaign as a Gator and has a lot to prove. He has gotten playing time in his three previous seasons but doesn't have much to show for it. He too has a great motor and is relentless on the field, but that hasn't turned into big plays yet. He should get much more time on the field to earn it this season and playing hard this spring will go a long way.

Earl Okine (SO. 6-7, 275) needs to find a home. He is somewhat of a tweener tackle/end, but hasn't proven himself at either place. Hopefully he brings his game face to practice this spring because that seems to be the big thing that has been missing so far. When you look at Okine away when he isn't playing, he looks like a world beater. He needs to translate that into playing like a man-child instead of just looking like one.

The weak side or FOX end position at Florida is a bit of a mystery right now. Along with middle linebacker and one cornerback spot, these three positions pose the biggest questions on defense.

William Green (JR. 6-3, 240) has played some and has the tools to play the position well. As a pass rusher, not many rival his quickness and speed at the snap of the ball. He will get the nod to begin the spring and I expect him to emerge as the starter at the end of spring practice.

Kedric Johnson (FR. 6-4, 230) is quite an unknown. A terrific camp find for the Gators two summers ago, he had a stellar senior season in high school. Johnson is ultra quick, but needed to improve his speed. We should find out of that is the case. He played tough in high school and he is more in the mold of a Jermaine Cunningham than Green was.

Lerentee McCray (JR. 6-2, 240) moved over from linebacker in the fall and will continue to play defensive end. McCray has excellent straight ahead speed and looks like a bullet shot out of a gun when he gets his sights on the ball carrier. This will be a big spring for McCray who only has two left.

Two freshmen will arrive in the summer and none more ballyhooed than Ronald Powell (FR. 6-4, 240). Powell will push for the starting spot early on in the fall and that is why the guys already here need to work hard this spring. Lynden Trail (FR. 6-7, 215) isn't too shabby either, but needs to put some weight on to be effective in the SEC. Both will get a chance when they show up in the summer.

Defensive tackle should be a team strength this year with age, experience, quickness, strength, and every other intangible, found in the group. There are five players with multiple starts among the seven that will be here for the spring. This is the deepest the position has been in quite some time, but it will only be for a year as four of the group are seniors and Jaye Howard is very likely to move on.

Staring with the three-technique position and Terron Sanders (SR. 6-2, 305) has been a player that has probably played beyond his recruiting status. He hasn't been a star, but he has been a good solid dependable player at the quick-tackle position. Sanders has always been strong haven been a weight lifting champion in high school, he combines that with pretty quick feet to be a dependable high SEC level type of tackle.

Edwin Herbert (SR. 6-2, 282) hasn't shown anything as a Gator after transferring in from junior college. This is his last go around so the next few weeks is the time he needs to make a name for himself. Nothing is really expected of Herbert right now, so if he can do anything it would be a benefit at this point. Of course he will have to fend through a couple of other guys that have played a lot to make a statement.

Jaye Howard (JR. 6-3, 295) should be the starter once spring rolls around. He brings a big time quickness advantage to the position and this should be a stellar year for him. In a pinch, Howard could play strong side defensive end, but he has a chance to be a special player this season and is a guy that wants to move on to the next level after this season. If he has that type of a season, then more power to him and that would bode well for the Gators in 2010.

New this spring to the field will be Leon Orr (FR. 6-5, 320). Orr is massive but has already clocked a 4.86 in the 40 at his 320+ pounds and they are excited to see what he can do. He is totally raw when it comes to defense, so he could bounce around from the three-technique to nose tackle or even wind up on offense before this spring is over. Unfortunately, if he is able to work out, it will be a while as he is recuperating from injury. When he is ready to go, he has the type of athletic ability that they will find a place for him and he should dominate wherever he settles and matures.

The depth at nose tackle is just as good and maybe more experienced. All three guys have started and all three have made pretty good contributions in their time.

Lawrence Marsh (SR. 6-4, 304) was a starter in 2008 during the Gators' championship year and had a solid year as a sophomore. He is huge as an inside guy and worked his way from end as a freshman. Marsh missed a lot of last season due to injury and eventually lost his starting spot. This is his final year and I expect bigger and better things from marsh who will be looking to try and make money in the NFL after this season.

The ultimate warrior on the team is Brandon Antwine (SR. 6-0, 303). The poor guy can't get away from injuries and he has more battle scars than anyone else. Still, when the Gators were getting it handed to them in Atlanta last year, Coach McCarney turned to Antwine to help stop the bleeding. His effectiveness at that time can be debated, but it certainly meant something when the staff turned to him for help. It is still up in the air as to how much time he will get on the field this spring due to his injuries as they really couldn't practice him much at the end of the season last year.

Omar Hunter (SO. 6-0, 310) was the starter at nose tackle last season and my bet to keep the reigns this year. I have a working bet with someone close to the program that Hunter will start over Marsh, but I could see either of them being the man in the middle. Hunter sat out his freshman season due to a back injury and sudden weight gain and being out of shape. He played well as a redshirt freshman, but not really a play maker. Hunter can and will be a play maker at the nose tackle position whether that starts this year or next. I think with a year under his belt he will really make some quantum leaps forward this season.

Two freshmen defensive tackles will show up this summer. Sharrif Floyd (FR. 6-2, 311) and Dominique Easley (FR. 6-2, 275) were the top two tackles in the nation for the class of 2010 according to Scout.com. Conveniently they play different spots and Floyd will come in as a nose and Easley as a three-technique. Both are talented enough to see the field as freshmen and I believe they will simply to get them ready for 2011 where they will really be needed.

The defensive tackle positions are two of the strongest, deepest, and most talented on the team. There is a ton of experience and some young talent that will be waiting in the wings to help out. Unfortunately most of that younger talent won't be here or won't be ready to participate until the fall. Therefore, this spring is all about settling on a two-deep and finding out situations where the top four can help the most. They should be very good when all is said and done.

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