Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd sat down to talk to the media after Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut and was immediately bombarded with questions about starting quarterback John Brantley.
Brantley had just gone 4 of 14 for 45 yards, including two passes that were batted down at the line. But Floyd wanted to make it clear exactly why the senior quarterback had a rough day.
“I wouldn’t call John Brantley’s play today a struggle,” he said. “I would call it not enough room.”
While it may be a bit naïve, “not enough space” isn’t a bad description of the day for any of the four quarterbacks who took snaps. Floyd and fellow sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley owned the interior of the line of scrimmage all day.
“Me and Dominique Easley, we collapsed the pocket and that’s one of our main goals. We forced offensive linemen into [Brantley’s] face,” Floyd said. “That’s just how our D-line plays, and we play physical and fast.”
The strength of the defensive line banged against an offensive line decimated by injuries and a starting quarterback who needs a stable pocket to be effective. The Gators only had seven scholarship offensive linemen available to protect their quarterbacks on Saturday.
But the Gator defensive linemen couldn’t control the health of their offensive counterparts just like they couldn’t control the bland defensive play calling that is a trademark of spring games.
Ronald Powell recorded no tackles and was barely mentioned throughout the game even though he plays the Buck position that has been the talk of spring practice.
“We didn’t go into a lot of stuff,” he said. “I wasn’t in the Buck position a lot.”
Easley, Powell and Floyd all came in with lofty expectations as freshmen in 2010. One year later, it seems like the trio is ready to perform at the level previously expected of them.
“We’re young,” Floyd said. “The coaches [in 2010] wanted people with experience, so that wasn’t mostly our fault. Last year, we felt as though we should have been out there more. This year we wanted to change all that, and I think we did.”
“We can be one hell of a force if we really, really come together and get it done.”
Head coach Will Muschamp recognizes Easley’s explosiveness, Floyd’s growing ability to fight through blocks and Powell’s power and toughness. However, he also has some homework for the trio this summer.
“Instead of just playing the game, they need to start learning the game,” Muschamp said. “They need to understand situations. They need to understand stances. They need to understand steps. Those are the things that they need to do a great job of in the off-season.”
With player-run drills in place through the summer, it seems the defensive line won’t have too much trouble with motivation. For competition and drive, they have one another.
“It’s fun, man,” Powell said. “You’ve got a lot of competition. If you don’t get to the ball before they do, it’s a wrap.”
While there were plenty of variables on Saturday arguably making the Gators defensive line look stronger than it truly is, Powell said some of their stats were underrated due to the two-hand touch nature of spring football.
“I know you saw the sacks where they’re still throwing the ball down the field,” he joked.
Regardless, Floyd finished with a game-high four tackles, three for a loss, and Easley provided a great pass rush until he left with what appeared to be a foot injury. Muschamp later said he was just tired.
The young Gator defensive linemen will get the chance in 2011 to do what they thought they could last season.
Saturday’s spring game was a great start.
Gator Country reporter Bryan Holt can be reached at BryanHolt@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanHoltGC.