Dante Fowler Jr. has only been with the Gators since July 2, but he has a chance to be a key pass rusher and a regular contributor at the Buck linebacker position.
“He certainly looks like he belongs,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “He’s physically strong, and when he’s out there practicing, you certainly say, ‘This guy is ready to help and be a part of our defense, for sure.’”
Given Florida’s struggles rushing the passer and Ronald Powell’s ACL tear, a significant contribution from Fowler would be a major boon.
A five-star prospect and the No. 28 recruit in the nation last year, Fowler seemed like a lock to head to Florida State before flipping his commitment to UF on National Signing Day.
Since joining the team on the practice field, Fowler has impressed, avoiding the freshman wall that can slow down many newcomers and establishing himself as one of the team’s best options at the Buck, likely behind only Lerentee McCray.
Although Quinn said last week that Fowler was ‘swimming’ like many of the other freshmen, Fowler’s motor has never slowed down.
“He’s somebody who really pushed through and took each day and said, ‘Alright, I’m going to work on this thing today and let’s go out and do it,’” Quinn said. “I give him a lot of credit that he came through and was ready to go.”
Of the 13 freshmen joining UF’s defense, Jon Halapio said Fowler has been the most impressive.
“The one standout [is] Dante Fowler,” said Halapio, who has known Fowler since the freshman was in eighth grade. “He was determined to play this year. He’s having a great camp.”
Quinn said he was impressed by Fowler’s power and lower-body strength. Halapio was wowed by Fowler’s play on the practice field.
“Honestly, I didn’t think he was going to perform how he’s performing now,” Halapio said. “It’s really good to see that he’s been working hard, even in the summer.”
Jacobs Improving: After struggling with his conditioning upon arriving at Florida in the spring, Damien Jacobs looks like a new man, according to Quinn.
Not only has Jacobs brought his weight down to 284 pounds, but he’s added quickness and pass-rush ability at defensive tackle.
“His conditioning level is a lot better than when he first got here, and I think his pass rush has improved,” Quinn said. “He’s lighter. When he first came in, he was heavier and his conditioning wasn’t as good.”
Jacobs was signed out of East Mississippi Community College in the spring by a Gators team desperate to improve its pass rush and depth on the interior line.
After a slow start, Jacobs appears to be emerging as an option.
“You can see his quickness really come out,” Quinn said. “I think he adds another inside rusher for us, so that’s a role that I’m anxious to see him develop through the course of the first couple of games.”
Omar Hunter has marveled at Jacobs’ power.
“He’s got that old-man strength,” Hunter said. “Not like the weight room, but the old-man strength. It’s weird, very weird. You might could bench more than him, but on the football field he’s just strong. It’s crazy strength.”
Injury Updates: Ronald Powell has continued to impress in his recovery from a torn ACL, leading Quinn to be confident that last year’s starter at Buck linebacker will be back at some point this season.
“I’m really proud of the way he’s approached this,” Quinn said. “The guy has been very aggressive and diligent and on it, so I am expecting to have him back at some point.”
Although Quinn limited Dominique Easley’s workload in fall camp to ease him back into game action after an ACL tear, the defensive tackle appears to be ready to play a full game.
“He looks good and ready to rock,” Quinn said. “I’m pretty pleased with where he’s at, and his conditioning level is good, and his strength is good.”
Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].