Spring brings changes for Powell

Six feet, four inches. Two hundred forty-eight pounds. Cut like a marble statue of a Greek god, there aren’t many high school players who look like Ronald Powell.

Florida drew the immediate ire of hordes of college programs hoping to land the Rancho Verde superstar when he committed to the Florida Gators football team in January of 2010.

When Powell unexpectedly showed up at a spring football practice in Gainesville a few months later, fans marveled at his size as he dwarfed Urban Meyer on the sideline.

Before he ever donned a Gators jersey, fans had penciled him in as an opening-day starter at defensive end.

With Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens as the projected starters at there, it seemed inevitable that the prospect so many recruiting analysts deemed already “NFL-ready” would upend one of them for a starting job.

But Powell developed slower than expected in fall camp, and Meyer said he wasn’t ready for a full-time starting role so early in his career.

Sure enough, he didn’t see the field much early in the season.

After moving to a hybrid defensive end and linebacker role midseason, Powell began to make his mark.

He finished the season with 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack. He turned in his best game of the season with nine tackles against Appalachian State. He looked fast, decisive and powerful at his new position and showed the playmaking ability Florida’s coaches thought they were getting when they recruited him.

So naturally, one would assume Powell will remain in that hybrid role heading into the 2011 season.

But with Florida potentially changing its defense to favor more of a 3-4 look, it looks like Powell will move to inside linebacker.

Neither Jon Bostic nor Jelani Jenkins was able to nail down the position last season, despite spring football performances that wowed watching fans and media.

Both showed flashes of brilliance last season, but just as often were caught out of position – a step too slow to make a crucial tackle.

The linebacker battle will be riveting this spring because nobody knows who will line up where, starting with Powell.

But Florida had a noticeable lack of production from its defensive ends last year, particularly rushing the passer. With Trattou and Lemmens both gone, two new starters will have to emerge.

The Gators have guys who have been around for a few years – William Green, Lerentee McCray and Earl Okine – who simply haven’t been able to seize the opportunity for playing time yet.

Meanwhile, Powell impressed in limited action defensive end last season. And while Florida’s coaches may prefer to play him at linebacker, necessity might force him back to his defensive end spot if the aforementioned players continue to disappoint.

Powell is versatile enough to play either defensive end or linebacker, as his improvement over the course of last season showed.

If he continues to improve at the same rate, he should be a staple on Florida’s defense for at least the next two years, developing into the superstar prospect many envisioned when he awed college scouts and recruiting analysts as a prep player

But is the versatile sophomore more likely to grow into a Carlos Dunlap style pass-rushing defensive end or a dominant middle linebacker like Brandon Spikes?

Or will spring football show us that Powell can do a little of both?