GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Since Will Muschamp arrived at Florida, the line -- and the tackle position in particular -- has been the engine of the defense.
The Gators thrived with top-drawer tackles like Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, but that success came crashing down last season when Easley was lost to injury.
It fell to juco transfer Darious Cummings to fill Easley's massive shoes, and the results were mixed. Cummings played in all but one game and started the final six games of the season, finishing with 15 tackles, three for loss, one sack and an interception.
More is now expected of Cummings as he heads into his senior year.
Florida DT Darious Cummings wants to be more disruptive inside this season.
"We all wanna win, you know?" he said during spring practice. "We all took a step back and we just evaluated ourselves, just to know that this is what we have to do. We have to play better, that’s all it is.
"We want to win and it has to start up front. We have to take it to the next level because everybody’s going to feed off us on the defense."
Cummings' stark self-evaluation came after Florida's 4-8 season was over. It was reinforced in a meeting with his coaches before spring practice began.
"All the coaches sat down with me before spring started and, of course we have that void to fill with Dominique," he said. "I take it upon myself just to, not to be that guy, but play like I can play."
One of the things the coaches expect from Cummings is more push and disruption up the middle. During spring practice, Cummings repeatedly used his 6-foot-1, 305-pound frame to do just that.
"I think inside Darious Cummings is a guy who can do some things in the pass-rush game," defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "He’s growing. He’s got some quickness and ability to do that."
The other major responsibilities for Florida's defensive tackles are run-stuffing, gap control and keeping offensive linemen off of the linebackers.
"If you lose your gap on the defensive line that frees up two gaps, and the linebacker has his own gap to cover," Cummings explained. "If we can keep the offensive line from getting up to the linebacker that gives them a chance to roam free and make plays."
It didn't always happen last season.
"I just think for us to be successful, everybody has to be on the same page," Cummings said, "and I just don’t think some of the time we were all on the same page."
Everything the coaches expected from their tackles was lacking last season, according to their postseason evaluations. But the Gators are hoping to rebound once they team Cummings with fellow senior tackle Leon Orr, who missed all of spring with a fractured wrist.
"Getting Darious and Leon back in the fold in the fall, you feel good about the potential depth you will have up front," Muschamp said. "We need a little more pass rush."
Like all seniors, Cummings is looking to make his mark in his final year.
"I haven’t really thought about it too much yet," he said. "But I think once we run out of that tunnel for the first time this season, it will start to sink in."