GatorCountry.com continues its series previewing the players who will make up the 2012 Florida Gators football team this season.
Each day, we’ll count off another scholarship player until the Florida football season officially begins Sept. 1 against Bowling Green in The Swamp.
Today, we take a look at true freshman buck end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler Jr. was verbally committed to Florida State throughout most of the recruiting process. However, the five-star prospect out of St. Peterburg (Fla.) Lakewood never took his eye off Florida.
Less than a week prior to the national signing period began, he said he was unsure where he was going to school. He eventually inked with the Gators on Feb. 1. A visit to Florida during the Jan. 20 weekend and a late push by Florida’s coaching staff sealed the deal.
Rivals.com had Fowler Jr. listed as the No. 3 weak side defensive end in the country and he participated in the Under Armour All-American Game. He also earned honorable mention All-American honors by Sports Illustrated.
Late paperwork caused concern as far as if Fowler Jr. would be cleared in time to enroll in UF’s Summer B session. He finally made it through the NCAA Clearinghouse, and arrived on campus on July 2.
A true rush end, Fowler Jr. can wreak havoc on opposing offenses by disrupting plays before they can develop. He’s lightening quick for a 6-foot-3, 277-pounder. If there’s a knock on him, the coaching staff would like to see Fowler Jr. improve his body mass index.
Fowler Jr. has excellent technique, using his power to bull rush when needed and his hands to keep offensive tackles from getting inside his body. He also has displayed a variety of moves to get into the backfield quickly. His vision is strong, allowing him to adjust to plays as they unfold.
The way he uses his hands is advanced for a true freshman, and he obviously had strong coaching at Lakewood High. He also uses his body and his feet well to stay in the proper position to maintain leverage on would-be blockers. He wants to win every battle and that competitive demeanor is why he’s earning the respect of his teammates.
Mentally, Fowler Jr. has approached his first taste of college football the correct way. Much said he’s been “attentive” in positional and team meetings.
“He asks the right kinds of questions,” Muschamp said last week. “He plays hard. It’s hard for a young man to come in the summer and understand the tempo and the mental gymnastics you have playing the game and all the things that happen. He’s working very hard at it.”
What to Expect
Because of his physical tools coupled with his mature mental approach, Fowler Jr. has positioned himself to see significant playing time. His size and speed make him the perfect fit for the Gators’ coveted Buck end/linebacker position.
While he may not start — at least initially — behind Lerentee McCray, Fowler Jr. may see more snaps than any other true freshman on the squad by the end of the season. His play has increased confidence in a position that seemed an uncertain after starter Ronald Powell injured his ACL in the spring scrimmage. Even after Powell returns, which is expected to be in October, Fowler Jr. should continue seeing considerable playing time at Buck. If Powell comes back healthy, it may even allow McRay to move back to linebacker with Fowler Jr. solidifying depth at Buck.
Regardless of how it all unfolds, Florida had 28 sacks as a team in 2011, and that number should increase in 2012 thanks to the addition of Fowler Jr.