If Ronald Powell is as comfortable on the field as he was in front of reporters Monday afternoon, the Gators’ defense should be in good shape.
Alongside fellow sophomores Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound “Buck” linebacker is also expected to become more of a vocal presence while anchoring Florida’s new-look defense in 2011.
With spring practices closed, UF fans will have to wait until Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut to see if Powell assumes that role. But amid the usual, quiet question-and-answer sessions Monday afternoon, Powell never hesitated to speak up.
Encircled by cameras and recorders, Powell cracked jokes, poked fun at a reporter’s wardrobe and asked another — mid-question — if he was nervous. When one reporter made reference to former-center Mike Pouncey “riding his butt” in practice last season, Powell let out a long, “Whoa,” and followed it up with, simply, “Next question.”
But on the practice field, only a few hundred yards away yet far removed from the watchful eyes of the media, the Gators have seen the steady emergence of Powell, Easley and Floyd.
“A lot of guys are realizing that they have to step up, and they have to play a major role this year,” sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “You got a lot of guys that are just realizing that it’s their time to shine.”
Florida’s heralded recruiting class of 2010 may have brought with them an undeserved sense of entitlement — to the point where Pouncey said last year the freshman just needed to “shut up” and play. But even then, linebacker Jon Bostic saw the potential of the team’s young defensive linemen.
“When they came in, a lot of people saw a lot of different things,” Bostic said. “But you saw a lot of that freshman class, the little flashes they had.”
Each of the three has earned substantial praise from their teammates and coach Will Muschamp through three weeks of spring practice, and they figure to be a critical part of the Gators’ revamped defense in 2011.
Florida’s defensive versatility hinges on Powell’s ability to play linebacker or put his hand down in his new “Buck” position — a similar role to what Jason Taylor and Sergio Kindle did under Muschamp.
Powell will often line up beside Easley, who only played in six games last season amid a lot of off-the-field controversy, and he praised the 6-foot-2, 278-pound Easley’s quick first step.
“Easley is so explosive off the ball. His get-off is just ridiculous,” Powell said. “It makes it hard for guys to block him.
“Because by the time they snap the ball and get ready for the block, he’s already past them.”
Floyd will line up inside with Easley when Florida plays four down linemen, and the 6-foot-3, 303-pounder said he has also been working more at defensive end in the 3-4.
“He’s got the get off the ball, the penetration, and I’ve got the power,” Floyd said. “Great combination, and we cause a lot of havoc.”
While Powell’s coming-out party before the local media Monday was somewhat unexpected, he said the emergence of the sophomore defensive line trio should be viewed as anything but surprising.
“I knew a lot of these guys had it in them,” Powell said. “It was just a matter of when we were going to start showing our talent, so it’s not really surprising.”