Poor play putting jobs on the line

Florida coach Will Muschamp wasn’t happy with the way the defensive line played in Saturday’s scrimmage, and he made it perfectly clear to them after the fact.

Get going or get buried on the depth chart.

“We need more numbers and guys in there that can play and guys you can count on,” he said. “I told them, the depth chart’s going to get set after spring and we’re going to get these young guys in here and figure out what they can do. You better put your work in right now.”

The Gators have gotten excellent play this spring from juniors Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd, but there has been far too little production past those two.

Junior Dominique Easley is out for the spring with a torn ACL, senior Lerentee McCray is out for the spring with a shoulder injury, senior Earl Okine is out for the spring with a back injury and junior Kedric Johnson is out for the spring with an undisclosed injury.

Throw in redshirt sophomore Leon Orr missing a few days with a shoulder injury, and Florida’s defensive line has been barely recognizable the last few days.

“It’s very tough. We’re playing a lot more snaps than we normally have to,” senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “The rotation is not as strong, but the guys that we do have are going hard in practice and everyone’s getting better.”

Inconsistency has been the word of the week when it comes to the unit. There have been flashes of brilliance followed by quick lapses that lead to big plays.

The running game appears to be coming along nicely, but how much of that is simply due to the defensive line being decimated by injuries?

“We didn’t tackle very well. We had a couple runs come down and we had tackling issues,” Muschamp said of Saturday’s scrimmage. “We have some young guys in there playing, so we’ve just got to get better.”

One of last year’s real problems on the defensive line also seems to be cropping up again early in spring practice.

At times last year, Florida’s defensive line was pushed around. Few players on the line were capable of taking up a double-team, and it resulted in a lot of linemen running free to the second level at the linebackers.

Muschamp was critical of the linebacker play in Saturday’s scrimmage, but he said part of the blame has to be put on the defensive line.

“We need to play blocks better up front,” he said. “We need to take up some double-teams and not let them to the next level so quickly, which we certainly had at times.”

Hunter said that’s an area the line needs to continue to focus on, but he thinks the unit has improved since Saturday’s poor showing.

“I think the first few days of practice guys came out a little bit rusty,” he said. “But as far as last practice, we looked pretty good. I think we’re getting better at that.”

In fact, he’s not even particularly worried about the lack of depth on the defensive line right now. He’s treating it as an opportunity to get better.

“Any time you have a chance to get more snaps, it’s always beneficial toward you,” Hunter said. “I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better as far as some technique things I was struggling with last year as far as the pass rushing. The more snaps I have to go against the ones on the offensive line is definitely benefitting me.”

He’s been around long enough to know if you’re not producing you’ll get passed on the depth chart in a hurry. With a couple five-star prospects arriving in the summer, jobs are on the line.

Lack of depth won’t be used as an excuse for poor play, but Hunter admits he’s excited about the future of the defensive line.

The Gators are looking to turn things around and get back to the dominance they displayed when Florida won two national titles in three years.

“It has a chance to be (that good) with guys like Dominique Easley coming back,” he said. “I think we’ve got a chance to be up there with the defensive line, like that ’08 year.”