ESPN’s GatorNation is previewing each position leading up to the start of the season. Every Friday until the season kicks off, Michael DiRocco and Jeff Barlis will analyze the players, tell you who is starting and why, and provide a breakdown of the depth at the position. This week it’s the defensive line.
The starters: DE/LB Lerentee McCray (RSr.), DT Dominique Easley (Jr.), DT Omar Hunter (RSr.), DE Sharrif Floyd (Jr.)
The backups: DE/LB Dante Fowler, Jr. (Fr.), DE/LB Gideon Ajagbe (RSo.), DE/LB Kedric Johnson (RJr.), DE/LB Alex McCalister (Fr.), DE/LB Bryan Cox, Jr. (Fr.), DT Leon Orr (RSo.), DT Damien Jacobs (Jr.), DT Dante Phillips (Fr.), NT Nick Alajajian (Sr.), DT Quinteze Williams (Fr.), DT Jafar Mann (Fr.), DE Jonathan Bullard (Fr.)
Comment: The line would be much better with DE/LB Ronald Powell, who is out for at least part of the season with a torn ACL. There is a lot of depth, which is in contrast to last season. Easley and Floyd have All-SEC potential, and the hope is some of the freshmen will develop enough to allow the Gators to slide Floyd inside to tackle, which is his more natural position. McCray was having a solid season last year until a shoulder injury caused him to miss four of the final five games. Fowler and Cox could see a lot of time at DE/LB (which UF calls the buck) early in practice to see if they can handle the spot.
Young guy to watch: Florida has long needed a talent to emerge as an edge-rusher, and Fowler has those gifts when he's focused. But it may be too much to ask a true freshman who only just arrived on campus to contribute at the buck, perhaps the most important position in coach Will Muschamp's multiple-formation defense. Besides, Florida has enough depth at linebacker to do just fine with McCray at buck (rather than strong-side linebacker). Instead, keep an eye out for Bullard. Yes, he is also a true freshman who has yet to practice, but Bullard's strong-side defensive end position isn't so demanding that it would necessarily keep him off the field. If he can contribute this season, it might be the key to moving Floyd to DT full-time.