Defensive front gets plenty of practice

Florida’s front seven has been banged up this spring. Two starters are out for the spring, and a handful of other players have missed time with injury.

The healthy players have used the extra snaps to their advantage.

“It’s hard, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to suck it up and keep going, because practice is not going to stop because you don’t have enough numbers,” defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd said. “We’ve just got to suck it up, fight the hard downs and keep going.”

Floyd is stuck playing defensive end again this spring due to the thin depth chart up front. It’s not a spot he prefers to play after shining at defensive tackle in the Gator Bowl in January.

However, he’s much more comfortable playing there than he was a year ago, when he slid outside for the first time.

“Now I understand it, so it’s no problem with me anymore,” he said. “It’s just an understanding how the technique is different and what you’re doing makes a difference basically. It’s just understanding what you’ve got to do on certain plays.”

That comfort level is something Floyd said he’s seen the entire defense start to pick up this spring.

Second-year coach Will Muschamp has also noted the faster pace the team seems to be playing with now that it’s more comfortable with the playbook.

Players are reacting instead of thinking on defense, and it has helped juniors like Floyd and Ronald Powell put together their best play at Florida.

“I’d say we’re more comfortable because now we have a consistent coach,” Floyd said. “We’re comfortable in their system, and we understand what’s going on.”

The Gators didn’t have much player turnover on defense, either. That should also help improve a unit that finished in the Top 10 nationally in total defense. The Gators returning three of four starters on the defensive line.

Floyd should help fill the gap inside left by Jaye Howard, who is projected as a second- to third-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

He said he expects to play tackle in Florida’s nickel package, while playing defensive end in Florida’s base package.

With Powell putting together a fantastic spring at the buck position and junior Dominique Easley expected to start again at defensive tackle after he recovers from a torn ACL, the Gators have just one hole to fill.

They’ll be counting on a handful of talented true freshmen arriving this summer, including Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard.

“I know we’ve got some talented individuals, and we’re going to need them to contribute,” Floyd said.

For now, Florida will settle for finishing off what has been a productive spring for the defensive front. Saturday’s spring game will be a chance for the fans to see the improvement of guys like Floyd and Powell.

For Floyd, the spring game doesn’t mean much. It’s simply the last of 15 practices and another opportunity to get better.

“Throughout spring you start to see who you got, who you can count on and those type of things,” he said. “The spring game is just basically the icing on the cake for that. We feed off of that to go into summer camp.”