Although much of the attention on the defensive side of the ball this spring has been focused on creating more turnovers, Florida and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are also looking for an improved pass rush.
Last season, the Gators ranked 37th in the nation and sixth in the Southeastern Conference in sacks with just 28. Florida recorded only one sack against the conference elite of Alabama and LSU and just five during a four-game losing streak in October. Ronald Powell led the team with six, and no other returning player had more than three.
Therefore, Quinn said he’s looking to Sharrif Floyd, who has been tasked with playing both inside and outside the last two seasons, and incoming junior college tackle Damien Jacobs to pick up the load. Quinn said Floyd, Jacobs and Powell have “provided probably the most rush for us so far in this spring.”
“The turnovers are a team thing,” Quinn said. “Rush and affecting the quarterback — at times we’ll do it with pressure and at times we’ll do it with a four-man rush. We’ve been working hard at it, and I think we’ll see the benefit of that.”
Although Floyd has been playing outside at the end spot because of a lack of depth along the defensive line, Quinn said a move back inside to the tackle spot opposite Dominique Easley is possible once several incoming freshman arrive for fall camp.
In this class, Florida has five defensive ends — Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, Dante Fowler Jr., Bryan Cox Jr. and Quinteze Williams — that will arrive in August, and Quinn said they could contribute early depending on how quickly they progress. Earl Okine, Kedric Johnson and Lerentee McCray are also options, but they will also miss spring practice due to injury.
“We’re counting on some players who are not participating this spring to provide some rush for us,” he said. “That would certainly be one of the ways we could possibly go.”
Floyd will likely play both spots this season, regardless, because he has the ability to play multiple techniques effectively, Quinn said. Floyd will be used as an end in 4-3 sets on first and second down and switch inside to tackle for nickel situations on third downs.
According to Quinn, Floyd can play both spots without it effecting his development at tackle, his natural position and a spot Quinn said he would ultimately like to be able to move Floyd back to.
“I’d like to put him there. I think he’s a good spot there,” Quinn said. “He adds value for me for our defense because I know he can do it at end. My goal, when we get everybody here with a mix of guys, let’s put guys in the best spot to help us win.”
Jacobs seems to factor heavily into the Gators’ plans for 2012, but he has also been the target of criticism for his inconsistency thus far in spring. There is an adjustment period that comes with the switch from junior college to the SEC, and Quinn said it was paramount Jacobs enroll early and be here for spring.
“It’s a whole new system — that’s hard to learn in just a training camp, not just for a lineman and it’s not just necessarily the plays,” he said. “A lot of the big guys can learn the plays. It’s not rocket science exactly what we’re doing on the defensive line. But there is a lot of technical play.”
Contact Matt Watts at [email protected].