Before spring practice began, Gator Country took a look at the top eight position battles to keep an eye on during spring practice. Now that spring is over, we’ll take a look at how those position battles played out over the past couple weeks.
In part three of the eight part series, we take a look at the battle at Buck LB.
While some may think that this story begins in 2012 when Ronald Powell tore his ACL in the Orange and Blue Debut, it actually began a long, long time ago.
Indulge me for a moment, as I take you back to 1925 and tell you about an infamous Yankee first baseman named Wally Pipp.
Pipp was a good major leaguer; he led the American League in home runs in both 1916 and 1917 and was a World Series champion in 1923. One day Pipp showed up to the ballpark with a splitting headache. He asked the team trainer for two aspirin. Upon seeing this, his manager told Pipp to take the day off and inserted Lou Gehrig into the lineup. Gehrig went on to a have a hall of fame career and played in 2,130 consecutive games. Pipp was traded to the Cincinnati Reds the following season where he played two more seasons.
He may not have been the first player to lose his starting job because of an injury, but Wally Pipp’s name has become synonymous with a player who lost his starting spot because of an injury.
Unfortunately, Ronald Powell may have found himself in the same position as Pipp.
Dante Fowler Jr.
In this scenario, Fowler would play the part of Gehrig.
Fowler showed up late to campus as a freshman but didn’t let that hold him back. Fowler saw action in all 13 games as a freshman, earning one start and was named to the SEC Coaches All-Freshmen team.
Fowler shed some baby fat in the offseason, he is now listed at 263 pounds, and his new, lighter frame has him playing the best football of his career.
While Fowler is producing on the field, it’s what he does off the field that really impresses his head coach.
“Dante walks up to me every single day and says what can I do to get better.” Muschamp said. “And so it starts, to me, from a maturity standpoint off of the field understanding what it takes to be successful.”
Fowler was a nightmare for the Gators offensive line in spring practice and he looks poised to have a breakout season in 2013.
By all accounts, Powell had turned the corner in his career towards the end of the 2011 season and was playing the best football of anyone on the Gators roster in the spring of 2012.
Powell tore his ACL in the 2012 Orange and Blue Debut and it’s a day that Muschamp recounts as a “dark day” for the program.
“Getting Ronald Powell back, which brings you back to a dark day for us a year ago. Here’s a young man that had worked extremely hard, was playing his best football, and tore his ACL in this game a year ago.” Muschamp said of Powell. “He has come a long way. He’s continued to work hard. He obviously had a re-tear on it in September and continues to work hard and is going to be a very valuable member of our football team when we hit fall camp.”
While Powell has the talent to be a valuable member of the Florida Gators, how he responds to putting the pads on, running full speed and really testing his surgically repaired knee remains to be seen.
Since taking the head-coaching job, Will Muschamp has preached that he will play the best 11 on either side of the ball. If Powell can return to full speed or close to it, there is no doubt that he would fall into that “best 11” category and the coaching staff will have to find a way to get both him and Fowler on the field.
Bryan Cox Jr.
Cox took a redshirt his first year on campus and he appears to have spent most of his time in the weight room. Cox has added considerable size to his frame and he gives the Gators great depth at both Buck and defensive end.
Cox has earned Muschamp’s seal of approval this spring.
“Bryan Cox is another guy that I think is going to play really well for us as we head into fall camp there.” Muschamp said.
While it doesn’t appear that Cox will be able to jump Powell or Fowler, he should see some playing time and he has the talent to be a productive player for the Gators.
McCalister is another player who benefitted from a redshirt season. Listed at 6’5”, McCalister was listed as low as 212 pounds in high school. That’s the kind of size you want to see in a wide receiver, not at Buck.
To McCalister’s credit, he has gained weight in the past year and is currently listed at 230 pounds. McCalister can stand to add another 20 pounds to his long frame and should continue to add weight, as he gets older.
Just a redshirt freshman, McCalister will add depth to the BUCK position and is a player to watch out for in the future.
While Cox and McCalister both took advantage of their redshirt seasons a year ago, this is clearly a two-man race. Both players will see playing time in 2013 but barring injury, shouldn’t be expected to start in 2013.
A former No. 1 overall rated prospect coming out of high school, Powell will have an uphill battle to climb this fall. As if going through two surgeries to repair a torn ACL wasn’t enough, Powell now finds a new tenant at the position he calls home.
As we stand, my inclination is that Fowler will start at Buck while Powell shakes off the rust of not having played football in over a year but that the coaches will find ways to get both players on the field.
New defensive line coach, Brad Lawing, will implement a “rabbit package”, which is basically a package that gets your four best pass rushers on the field at the same time. This could get Dominique Easley, Jonathan Bullard, Fowler and Powell on the defensive line at the same time.
Hello, SEC offensive lineman, good luck.
Another option would be to have Powell play some Sam linebacker. It is a position he played a little bit as a freshman under Urban Meyer and Powell has shown that he is capable of dropping into coverage.
While it does appear the Gators have a bit of a logjam at the position, you’ll never hear a coach complain about having too much talent at any position.