Urban Meyer is a lot of things: demanding, tough, intense, a workaholic. But surely no one would doubt how spoiled he and the staff are these days.
Whether or not he wants to admit it is another thing. But Meyer has a treasure trove of talent stacked at nearly every position that would make any other coach gush. That is especially true with the Gators’ defensive line.
With what has traditionally been the weakness for the Florida football team over the last few years, this year’s defensive line is shaping up to be the best in the SEC, if not the nation. They have all of last year’s starters returning followed by a core group of younger players with another year under their belt. Players like William Green, Earl Okine and Omar Hunter are sure to make this the deepest and strongest defensive front in years.
Meyer isn’t buying it, though.
“Our D-line is not deep enough,” Meyer said after practice Wednesday. “We only have four ends right now. I keep hearing about our depth and how we’re a loaded group and all. But we aren’t there yet.”
Meyer isn’t known for blowing smoke or publicly patting his players on the back, especially when he feels that he can still get more out of his players.
So if he doesn’t want to hear it and isn’t going to say it, then someone else has to.
This year’s version of the D-line is loaded, and it’s because of versatile guys like William Green.
The sophomore had limited playing time last year but made some big plays, including a blocked punt against Kentucky that resulted in a touchdown. But since then, he has grown up quite a bit by putting on about 15 pounds and is now tipping the scales at around 250. That’s up from 215 when he first arrived in Gainesville.
“They’ve got me eating a lot,” Green said. “I eat four meals a day and throw down three calorie shakes on top of that.”
Recruited as a linebacker, Green has turned into a dynamic athlete who can play stand up as well as anywhere on the line. Just last week, Urban likened him to Jarvis Moss in his ability to use his speed to get around the corner as well as drop off into coverage. But even with a guy as talented and fierce as Green showing flashes in practice, he is still stuck behind Jermaine Cunningham on the depth chart.
“It’s been some good competition so far,” Green said. “We’ve got guys that can play multiple positions and we’re two or three deep. So it’s a battle.”
Meyer seems to be collecting hybrid defensive ends that are more than capable of dropping into coverage on zone blitzes. Moss used to fit that bill in his time here and Cunningham did more of the same last season running step for step with tight ends and running backs down the sideline.
Green will be expected to do the same next season. Right now he is fighting for playing time along with Okine all while battling a sprained left hand that has him wearing a cast. He was ranked as one of the top four-star linebackers in the country last year coming out of Hoover, Ala., primarily because of his long frame and 4.6-second speed. But he certainly doesn’t feel any entitlement because of his high school exploits and insists it doesn’t matter how many stars he was given as an Army All-American.
“The stars don’t win anything,” Green said. “It’s about guys who do the little things and work hard. It has nothing to do with how big a recruit you were.”
His work ethic and versatility is one major reason why Gator fans have to feel good about this year’s defensive line. The challenge for the coaching staff will be trying to decide who is better and determining how to divvy up the playing time among a group of playmakers. Still, Green understands Meyer’s critiques and agrees he and his unit still need a lot of work.
“We are not as cocky as we are confident in being able to do what we can do,” he said. “Practice is taking a toll on our bodies, but we need to be more physical with how we play, that’s for sure.”