This time last year Ronald Powell was playing the best football of his career. He was coming off of a Gator Bowl performance that saw him do all the little things that the coaching staff had been looking for all season long and he carried that momentum into the offseason.
By all accounts, Powell was having the best spring practice of any player on the team and was heading for a breakout season.
Then the unimaginable happened, Powell tore his ACL during the Orange and Blue game. He was given a favorable timetable to return but re-injured the knee during rehab and his season was lost.
New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Powell has been attacking his rehab and looks to be targeting a return to the field in the fall.
“Ronald’s been doing an unbelievable job. That guy’s incredible just how relentless he is with his rehab and how he works at things.” Durkin said. “He’s been through a tough time obviously having the ACL, then re-injuring it and going through that whole process again. But he does it. He brings it everyday to his rehab and what he’s doing. We fully feel that he’s going to be back and strong and ready to go and ready to compete when camp gets here in August. I know that’s what he’s shooting for. We all know it, too.”
How Powell is able to return from the injury as far as explosiveness, speed, flexibility and comfort level remain to be seen. What we do know is that his old home has a new tenant, Dante Fowler Jr., and Fowler won’t be moving out without a fight.
Fowler came on early last season, playing in all 13 games and earned a start against Missouri. Fowler is making headlines in his first spring practice and after a full year in the program is really making strides on the field.
“Dante, obviously, this is his first spring. He came to us late in the summer last year. This is really his first go-around. He went through winter conditioning, then spring ball now to learn how we do things and train and all that.” Durkin continued. “He’s an unbelievably gifted football player and he’s just going to continue to get better and better. He’s very coachable. He’s always asking what else he can do, what he need to do better. He’s a pleasure to coach. I think that guy has a really bright future ahead of him.”
While Fowler may be in Powell’s way, Durkin doesn’t see that as a problem, but rather an opportunity for competition and a scary pass rush.
“Obviously Ron when healthy and Dante healthy, they’re both going to be in our top-11 guys. We’ll do some things to make sure they’re both out there playing,” Durkin said. “The greatest thing to have as a coach is competition. It makes everyone better. Competition is worth a thousand words. Those guys out there, they both know and respect the other one and know how good they are as players. They’re going to make each other better and they’re both going to make our team better. We’ll figure all that stuff out as we get to it.”
And once August rolls around, the real competition will be on. While Powell and Fowler battle for reps at Buck, it will be up to Durkin to find creative ways to get both players on the field at the same time. Four man fronts of Fowler, Powell, Dominique Easley and Jonathan Bullard would haunt offensive lines across the SEC.
For now, Powell watches practice from the sideline and goes through his rehab, waiting for the day he’s cleared to get back on the field. He’s not the only one waiting, his new defensive coordinator is as well.
“It will be a great day for all of us that know Ronald, coach him or play with him when he’s able to get back out on the field because of how hungry he is.”