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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Now that spring practice has concluded, GatorNation takes a look at Florida's projected defensive depth chart heading into August practices. The offensive depth chart will be examined on Tuesday. An asterisk denotes a player who enrolled early:
Ronald Powell (RJr.) --- Dante Fowler Jr. (So.), Alex McCalister (RFr.)
|Florida hopes to get a big boost this fall from the return of defensive tackle Dominique Easley from a torn ACL.|
Powell is scheduled to be cleared for full-contact work when August practice begins. He hasn't put on pads since he suffered a torn ACL in his in left knee in the 2012 spring game. He tore it again last September, but is expected to be fine and regain his starting spot. He was playing at a high level before his injury and if he can maintain that he'll give the Gators a potent pass rusher. Fowler had a solid freshman season (30 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and would fill in capably as the starter if the Gators want to ease Powell back into the rotation. The coaching staff is excited about McCalister's potential. He's tall and lean (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) with long arms and will be in the middle of the field-goal block unit.
Dominique Easley (Sr.) -- Damien Jacobs (Sr.), Joey Ivie* (Fr.), Jarran Reed (Jr.), Caleb Brantley (Fr.), Jay-Nard Bostwick (Fr.)
This spot is probably the biggest question mark on defense after the loss of Sharrif Floyd to the NFL. That's why UF coach Will Muschamp has moved Easley inside from end to start the season. Easley's strength is his quickness, especially his first step, and his nastiness. Whether he plays here the entire season depends on the development of the newcomers. Jacobs is a solid run plugger who would start if Easley moves back outside. Reed is intriguing because he is supposed to be better than Darious Cummings, who was impressive in the spring after enrolling early.
Leon Orr (RJr.) -- Cummings (Jr.)*, Easley, Reed, Brantley, Antonio Riles (Fr.)
The Gators aren't exactly loaded at this spot, either. Orr was solid last season (15 tackles, one sack) but is still struggling with his consistency. Cummings was a pleasant surprise in the spring. He was disruptive and showed the ability to push the pocket back. Easley also can play the nose, but newcomers are going to have to contribute significantly here. The Gators would like a six-man tackle rotation. Easley, Orr, Jacobs and Cummings are locks. Two others have to emerge.
Jonathan Bullard (So.) -- Bryan Cox Jr. (RFr.), Easley, Jordan Sherit (Fr.)
Because Easley moved inside, Bullard inherits the starting job. There might not be much drop-off. Bullard was one of the Gators' most impressive freshmen last season. He ended up leading UF with seven quarterback hurries. Cox was all over the field during the Gators' final open practice and finished with 4.5 tackles and a sack. If the young tackles develop and Easley is able to move back outside, the Gators' rotation at end could be the best it has been since the 2008 title team.
Darrin Kitchens (Sr.) -- Neiron Ball (RJr.), Jeremi Powell (RFr.), Powell, Fowler.
This is an interesting spot because the Gators have a lot of flexibility. Muschamp could opt to start Powell at the buck and Fowler here, or Fowler at the buck and Powell here (the more likely scenario of the two). However, if Powell and Fowler are rotating at buck, Kitchens should be the starter. He moved inside during the spring to back up Antonio Morrison after a shoulder injury to freshman Alex Anzalone but started the spring at strongside linebacker. Ball returned to the field in 2012 after sitting out a season because of bleeding in his brain. He didn't make many tackles but did have an interception, a pass breakup and two fumble recoveries. Jeremi Powell was one of UF's top scout-team players last season and has the speed and athleticism to make plays in the open field.
Antonio Morrison (So.) -- Alex Anzalone (Fr.)*, Kitchens, Michael Taylor (RJr.)
Morrison had no trouble moving from outside linebacker to the middle to replace Jon Bostic. He added 13 pounds in the offseason and now weighs 229. He's a big hitter and has a good understanding of the defense and feel for the game. He's got the potential to be the next big-time middle linebacker at UF. Anzalone may eventually end up playing defensive end, but he's going to start off at linebacker. He should be completely recovered from a shoulder injury. Kitchens and Taylor can play outside and inside.
Weakside linebacker Taylor -- Daniel McMillian (Fr.)*, Matt Rolin (Fr.)*, Jarrad Davis (Fr.)
The middle and weakside linebacker sports are similar in UF's defense, so it's not much of a transition for Taylor to move outside. He's a solid player against the run but a liability in coverage. McMillian was impressive in the spring and capped it off with a noteworthy performance in the final open practice: 4.5 tackles and a pass breakup. It wouldn't be surprising if McMillian ended up starting here by the middle of the season. Rolin did not practice in the spring because he was still recovering from offseason knee surgery, so it's unclear how much he can contribute.
Marcus Roberson (Jr.) -- Jeremy Brown (RSr.), Brian Poole (So.), Vernon Hargreaves III
Roberson had a team-high 12 pass breakups last season and he's probably the Gators' best cover corner. Muschamp said Roberson has become a more physical player, which he needed to be because he spent his first two seasons throwing his shoulder instead of trying to tackle. Brown was injured (again) in the spring and likely will fall further down the depth chart. Poole is poised for a breakout season. He's the starting nickelback, a special-teams standout and is too talented to keep off the field. Hargreaves is immensely talented -- he was ESPN's No. 3 overall player -- and the expectation is he'll be on the field a lot in some role, whether it's as a sixth defensive back or on special teams.
Loucheiz Purifoy (Jr.) -- Poole, Jaylen Watkins (Sr.)
Purifoy spent the first half of the spring at receiver, but Muschamp was emphatic that Purifoy will remain a starter on defense. He's the Gators' biggest (6-1, 185) and most physical corner. He also has the ability to make a play on the ball in the air, which is something UF's DBs have struggled with the past few seasons. Watkins started 11 games at corner last season but was moved to safety at the end of the spring.
Watkins -- Jabari Gorman (Jr.), Valdez Showers (RSo.), Keanu Neal (Fr.)
Muschamp moved Watkins to safety because he wasn't happy with the development of the younger players. Communication, in particular, was an issue. Watkins has played safety before and he has a complete understanding of the defense. He should have no trouble replacing Josh Evans. Gorman and Showers will get playing time but won't send Watkins back to corner unless they become more consistent.
Cody Riggs (RJr.) -- Marcus Maye (RFr.), Marcell Harris (Fr.), Nick Washington (Fr.)
Riggs has played corner and safety in his career and, like Watkins, is a smart, dependable player. He's a bit undersized (5-9, 184) and isn't the big-time playmaker that Matt Elam was, but he's not going to make many mistakes and doesn't get beat for big plays. Maye is one of the younger players who have been up and down. Harris and Washington may end up playing more on special teams.