Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at buck linebacker Dante Fowler.
Buck Dante Fowler
27 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Role in 2012: Fowler benefitted from injuries to other players and got a lot of reps with the first team during fall camp. He quickly showed he deserved to play and figured heavily into the rotation.
The good: Fowler has very good speed and quickness for someone his size (6-foot-3, 277 pounds) and he also is a high-motor, relentless player. He’s not bad against the run, either, but his strength is rushing the passer. His 7.0 tackles for loss ranked third on the team behind DT Sharrif Floyd (11.0) and S Matt Elam (10.0). Fowler is one of several young players whom defensive coordinator Dan Quinn singled out as improving during bowl practices. He could be the next Loucheiz Purifoy -- a player who showed marked improvement in bowl practices and followed that up by becoming one of the Gators’ better playmakers the following season.
The bad: Showing up significantly heavier than he was on signing day raised some flags about Fowler's offseason work ethic. It’s unlikely that he’ll have the same problem this offseason because he’ll be on campus and working with strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman. He does need to drop some weight and get in better shape. Like all young players, Fowler is a bit raw fundamentally and relies more on his athleticism and strength. He needs to refine his technique and spend some extra time with defensive line coach Bryant Young.
Crystal ball: Ronald Powell will return from a torn ACL next season and regain his starting job, but Fowler will be on the field a lot. If Powell doesn’t play at the level he did before his injury, then don’t be surprised to see Fowler in the starting lineup. He’s big enough that the Gators could move him to defensive end, too. Either way, UF should be much better rushing the passer in 2013, and Fowler will be a key part of that.