Freshmen Fowler and Poole growing up

Last year, it was freshman cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy that broke out during bowl practice and carried it into the 2012 season. This year, there are two other freshmen having strong bowl practices. BUCK linebacker Dante Fowler and cornerback Brian Poole showed their talent during the regular season in practice, but inconsistency kept them from making a big impact. That has changed in recent weeks.

"In the front seven, one that is really kind of coming on and you can see, is Dante Fowler," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "He's playing really at a high level right now. And to me, you can see the momentum, the confidence, the understanding, at a faster rate.

"In the back end, one guy that's really caught my attention and I'd say is doing a good job right now is Brian Poole. So those two players are really ones to me that have caught my eye, and I thought they've had a good camp in terms of the work they've put in."

Fowler has been more involved in the Florida defense this season than Poole, but his pass rushing ability is starting to show in practice. Fowler played in all 12 regular season games, providing 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. The freshman added one quarterback hurry.

Being 11th on the team in tackles is only the beginning of his talent. His quickness off the ball was evident in fall practice, but he went through typical freshman inconsistencies throughout the season that slowed him down. So far this December, he's looking like an upperclassman.

"That kid is special. He is what I wanted to be my freshman year," said former five-star defensive lineman Omar Hunter. "He's going to be very special. He's going to be a great player here – quick, powerful guy. I think he can play inside at three technique and outside at the end. He can cover tight ends. Just a special athlete, special football player."

Pass rush ability comes natural for Fowler. Even when he showed up on campus in the summer and went through fall camp, he was still able to beat Florida's offensive tackles at times. He was just missing the fine-tuning of his technique that would take him to the next level.

To make that happen, Fowler and fellow freshman defensive end Jonathan Bullard spent extended time in the film room. They spent time watching and breaking down video with defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Dan Quinn to find the areas in their technique that broke down. The extra work in the film room has jumpstarted Fowler's game on the field.

"I saw taking stuff from the meeting room and taking it out onto the field," Florida safety Josh Evans said of what has helped the two freshmen. "They've got one of the best coaches you can ask for as a D-line coach and them working hard in practice and coming out there and seeing older players like Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter and seeing guys like that is something that is definitely pushing them hard to get better.

The future progression for Fowler should happen naturally. He has the talent, and as his technique and understanding of the defense continues to improve under the Florida coaches, he'll get more comfortable with what the Gators are trying to do on defense. That'll continue to happen, and Fowler's production will continue to grow.

"He's getting smarter. He's a smarter football player than when he first came in," Hunter said. "These practices where coaches can help the younger guys more, because the seniors know everything, they know the schemes. Being able to focus on the young guys is really helping them out a lot. Whether it's understanding formations or defensive schemes, it's really helped them."

It's starting to happen for Poole, too. The freshman cornerback saw extended time on the field for special teams this season but was only on the field for the Florida defense when the game was in hand and already decided. In the stat sheet, Poole is only given credit for two tackles this season.

His performance in practice, especially bowl practices this month, make it likely that will change next season.

"He's also another young guy you better watch out for," Evans said. "He's going to be a guy that's going to compete. He's going to go after it every day, and he's a guy who's getting better every day at working on his one-on-one's."

Evans has spent time working with the freshman to help the transition be as seamless as possible. Without playing much on defense this season, Poole had the opportunity to learn from experienced cornerbacks on the team and pick up the defensive scheme as the season went on.

There are still smaller areas of the defense that Poole has to learn, but Evans is optimistic about the impact he will make on the defense in the future.

"Some of his strengths are that he can cover for a young guy," Evans said of Poole. "Sometimes that's pretty difficult for younger players coming in is covering and using their technique. Something he probably needs to work on is pressing. He's good pressing, but using his hands and knowing how to direct guys is something that he can do to improve his game to the max as a player."

As the seniors are able to sit back and watch the freshmen grow in recent practices, there's no doubt about where they see the program going.

"Definitely got some great guy coming back and even the guys coming in," said Evans. "There will be some great guys here next year."

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