The media covering Florida Gators football last year dubbed it the ‘Dominique Easley treatment.’
Last offseason, Easley would get minimal work in during the spring and fall camps. He would take a few reps to start various drills but, for the most part, was held out of the bulk of practice. This enabled the coaching staff to see younger players work as well as give Easley, a veteran coming back from a knee injury, time off.
This year, Dante Fowler is getting the Easley treatment but that doesn’t mean Florida’s biggest pass rushing threat is just standing out at practice as a spectator. Will Muschamp and D.J. Durkin have challenged Fowler to step up as a leader and the junior is doing just that.
“Noticeably different,” Durkin said when asked how Fowler is responding as a leader on and off the field. “He understands, we’ve challenged him with that, to be a consistent guy there and he’s really done that to this point.”
Fowler was in an orange non-contact jersey after a minor injury on Wednesday. Durkin said having Fowler in the jersey was a “precautionary” measure on Thursday and that jersey has been the only thing to stop Fowler this fall as he rounds into form.
“I’ve been proud of Dante, about the way he’s practiced,” Durkin said. “He’s been very consistent with his effort and how hard he’s going, and it’s showing. He’s getting better and improving.”
It’s not just the media and the coaching staff that has noticed a change in Fowler. He’s building off of a productive sophomore season and his teammates are taking notice as well.
“Fowler is definitely an impact player. When NCAA (EA Sports) comes out this year he should have a star,” senior linebacker Mike Taylor said. “And he is definitely making an impact every day, doing something whether it’s pass-rushing or stopping the run, he’s always going to make an impact by some kind of way in practice, so you expect that from Dante.”
EA Sports didn’t release their annual college football title this year, but, if they had, Taylor would have been spot on with his prediction about Fowler earning a star in the game.
Durkin credits Brad Lawing — who coached Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina — as one of the key reasons the defensive line has remained productive even after losing players like Sharrif Floyd and Easley. Lawing has more than three decades of experience coaching and the old coach is still teaching these young bucks some new tricks.
“Coach Lawing is doing a great job with us on the D-line and working with some pass-rush moves,” said Fowler. “I’m learning a lot of good things and just trying to translate it onto the field and keep working on it.”
Florida finished 12th in the SEC with just 19 sacks a season ago. That has to change. The Florida Gator defense needs to force turnovers, get to and affect the quarterback. Fowler is the player that defenses will key on. Every week the Gators’ opponents will gameplan and schemes ways to stop him but he doesn’t feel the pressure of that.
“No pressure at all. It’s just that I’m going to have to provide better pass rush,” he said. “It’s our job to get to the quarterback, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do a better job.”
If the Florida Gators are going to truly “bury” the memories of the 2013 season, players like Fowler will be the reason.