Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Line of scrimmage league
By Michael DiRocco GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A quick glance at Florida's signing class is all that's needed to figure out where the Gators need the most help.
UF coach Will Muschamp signed six defensive linemen and two offensive linemen, hoping to beef up the line of scrimmage and improve what was the Gators' biggest weakness in 2011. The added depth might not pay off with immediate results, but Muschamp has a good start on getting bigger and more physical at positions that struggled against most of the Southeastern Conference.
"We saw very easily in our season this year we struggled on both lines of scrimmage, consistently being able to run the ball and stop the run," Muschamp said. "I certainly feel like we've addressed our most pressing need, [which] was on both lines of scrimmage develop playmakers and add depth."
Quinteze Williams is the No. 17 overall player from Georgia.
The Gators added four-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, N.C./Crest), three-star defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas), three-star defensive tackle Jafar Mann (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson), four star defensive tackle Dante Phillips (Venice, Fla./Venice) and four-star defensive tackle Quinteze Williams (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek) on Wednesday. Defensive tackle Damien Jacobs of East Mississippi Community College enrolled in January.
It's group of players that adds bulk -- the group averages 273 pounds -- and much-needed depth to a unit that lost its best tackle (Jaye Howard) to graduation and has its second-best tackle (Dominique Easley) coming off ACL surgery.
"I think all of those guys certainly can come in and contribute in some form or fashion," Muschamp said. "We needed to improve our pass-rush. I think we addressed that. We needed to add more girth inside and depth inside."
The highlight of the group is the 6-foot-3, 263-pound Bullard. He had 82 tackles and 16 sacks as a senior and ESPNU ranked him the No. 4 defensive end and the No. 3 player in North Carolina. Muschamp said he was impressed with Bullard's speed and athleticism.
"He's a guy that can really run," Muschamp said. "We went and watched him play basketball last week, and he gets up and down the court very well."
The Gators need a playmaker at end to complement Ronald Powell at the buck position. Junior Sharrif Floyd is the only proven player at that spot right now, and he has just 1.5 career sacks.
Cox (6-3, 247), ESPNU's No. 66 player in Florida, was signed to play the buck position, which is a hybrid end/linebacker. The son of former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox was bothered by a wrist injury during his senior season.
"He's a guy that's got great length as far as his arms are concerned," Muschamp said. "He's a very tough kid. I really like his toughness."
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Mann (6-4, 293) and Phillips (6-6, 270) were signed specifically to beef up the middle. Williams (6-5, 255) played tackle and end in high school but will need to add weight to be more effective.
Jacobs (6-3, 310) is the biggest of the group. He had two sacks and 47 tackles last season and likely has the best chance to play early since he's a junior who enrolled early.
UF had hoped to add the same kind of depth on the offensive line but was able to sign only two players: five-star tackle D.J. Humphries and four-star guard Jessamen Dunker. Both enrolled early and will participate in spring practice.
The Gators missed out on four-star offensive tackle Avery Young (Auburn) and three-star offensive tackle Jake Meador (Wisconsin). Still, Muschamp says he believes UF improved on both lines of scrimmage, which is critical if they're to compete for a division title in 2012.
"If you watched in our league this year, the two dominant teams were very good on both lines of scrimmage," he said.
The pressure is on wide receiver Latroy Pittman, who was Florida's first commit in the class of 2012.
Florida, however, did not land as as many explosive playmakers in the backfield or at receiver as it needed. The Gators signed only one running back (Matt Jones of Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and two receivers (Latroy Pittman of Citra, Fla./North Marion and Raphael Andrades of Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln). Jones is the big back (6-2, 213) the Gators had hoped to land, but Muschamp said Pittman could play some safety in addition to receiver, and Andrades is a three-star recruit whom ESPNU ranked as the No. 152 receiver in Florida.
UF ranked 105th nationally in total offense (328.7 yards per game) and 89th nationally in passing (185.7 yards per game) in 2011. No wide receiver caught more than 21 passes.
"We'll be fine," Muschamp said.
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.