Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday through Jan. 31, 2013, GatorNation will break down each position. We’ll look at 2013, of course, but also try and give you a peek beyond next season, too. Today is defensive end. Thursday will be defensive tackle.
Two-deep: Dominique Easley is the starter at end and Lerentee McCray is the starter at the buck (end/linebacker hybrid). Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler are the reserves. McCray graduates. Easley is a junior but could leave early for the NFL.
Next up: Ronald Powell missed the entire season with a knee injury. He was having a fantastic spring and was poised for a breakout season until he got hurt in the Gators’ spring game. He will be the starter at buck next season provided his knee is healthy. The coaching staff is really high on freshman Alex McCalister, who redshirted. He needs to bulk up from 222 pounds, though. Bryan Cox Jr. also redshirted this season and could see the field in 2013. Another player who missed the season with a knee injury is Kedric Johnson, who figured to factor into the rotation.
High-profile commits: Jordan Sherit (Tampa, Fla./Hillsborough) and Antonio Riles (Lawrenceville, Ga./Archer) are 27th and 28th, respectively, in ESPN’s defensive end rankings. The 6-foot-5, 234-pound Sherit and the 6-4, 261-pound Riles are both four-star recruits. Sherit tore his ACL in October, but it’s unlikely either freshman could make much of an impact considering the players already at the position.
Additional targets: The Gators are likely only going to sign one more defensive end and are heavily pursuing Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind./Avon). The 6-3, 249-pound Daniel is ESPN’s No. 6 defensive end and a four-star recruit who was originally committed to Clemson. He is scheduled to visit UF the weekend of Jan. 12. UF has slowed its pursuit of Ebenezer Ogundeko (Brooklyn, N.Y./Thomas Jefferson). The 6-3, 229-pound Ogundeko is ESPN’s No. 10 defensive end and a four-star recruit. He lists UF and Clemson as his leaders.
Looking toward 2013: Defensive end and buck went from a position of weakness to one of strength next season -- even if Easley decides to leave early for the NFL. Bullard and Fowler had impressive freshman seasons and the coaching staff is excited about their future. Bullard came on strong toward the end of the season and ended up leading UF with seven QB hurries. A healthy Powell should be good for six to 10 sacks as well. Cox is a wildcard who should contribute. The Gators should be able to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.