While there was plenty of talent on hand for Dan Quinn when he arrived at Florida from the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, the Gators’ new defensive coordinator still managed to turn a relatively young group into one of the league’s best in his first season in Gainesville.
So far through the 2012 season, the defense has only continued its upward trend as the Gators currently sit at fifth in the nation in total defense. Quinn has helped mold one of the country’s best defensive outfits, but on Wednesday, he revealed that he was hesitant to take what some would describe as plum job at first.
“There was (hesitancy) on my end, because you have done one thing for 10 years, you’re kind of settled and I certainly enjoyed where I was at,” said Quinn.
“I had a good time working with Pete Carroll and Josh Schneider the GM [in Seattle.] There was hesitancy not from coming back to college and coming here or working for Will (Muschamp), but I enjoyed what I was doing there and I was happy. But, I thought the opportunity was too unique to pass up, and that’s why I wanted to come. And I’m glad that I did.”
Quinn forged his relationship with head coach Will Muschamp during a stint with the Miami Dolphins from 2005-2006. The two have a lot in common with both being defensive minded coaches, and according to Quinn, they play well off each other.
“I think we just have a good connection and know how to feed off one another,” Quinn said of Muschamp. “Just by working together we saw things the same way. … We’ve all had colleagues like that you just feel like it’s easy to talk to or get connected with. That’s certainly how it is with Will. I’ve said it before. I think he’s one of the best defensive coaches at any level that I’ve been around in. For me, it’s always nice to know that he’s there to talk, and he’s coaching and we’re in it together.”
Chemistry is Key
The Florida defense was no slouch last season, but this year it has been easy to see a difference in the group. The Gators appear to genuinely enjoy playing together.
According to Quinn, there’s no doubting the role that the unit’s chemistry has played in their success so far this season.
“When you have that type of chemistry, there’s a little bit of — I’ll push you as hard as you’ll push me and knowing that you’re not going to get bent out of shape if I tell you, ‘Hey, pick it up,’” Quinn said. “It’s not uncommon for guys to get on each other, ‘Let’s go, we’re counting on you here.’ That kind of camaraderie of people who genuinely care about each other and are playing for each other adds into the collective where we’re all in it together.”
Fans who tuned into the Missouri game over the weekend probably couldn’t help but notice the play of freshmen defensive linemen Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard.
The former five-star prospects have seen a lot of playing time this season, and have both shown constant improvement. Muschamp constantly harps on the SEC being a “line of scrimmage” league, and with the development of both Fowler and Bullard, the Gators’ outlook in the trenches appears to be positive for the next few years.
“Well number one, when they were coming in we thought they had the physical ability to do it in how fast could they get connected to learn the system and play within the system to be productive,” Quinn said.
“I think over the last three or four weeks, I’ve really seen Fowler improve. … Each week, you kind of see a little something extra. I thought that was maybe the case this week with Bullard, where he made some plays I thought that really helped us and I’m hoping to see those guys continue and continue and continue, because I really think they’ve got a big future.”
Quinn also cited defensive back Brian Poole as another freshmen with a bright outlook. Poole cross-trained at safety and cornerback during fall camp, but according to Quinn he has remained strictly at corner since then. Quinn said Poole has the desire to improve which is necessary for finding success as a player.
“It will be important for Brian to keep moving forward,” Quinn said. “Physically, he’s got the size and the range and the strength. Now, for him, it’s on the technique all the time, so he certainly has the physical skills, we think, to be a top player here. … You see him doing extra with Tavaris [Robinson] whether it’s after practice or before practice, so for him, the “want-to” is there.”
Not Worrying About the Future
With the season winding down and a perceived lull in the schedule before the regular season finale against Florida State, some are already wondering about the looming NFL draft decisions on the horizon for a talented crop of juniors defensively. Like Muschamp earlier in the week, Quinn refused to look past this season.
“That’s something that we haven’t talked about with them, so I certainly plan on them being here,” Quinn said. “And to their credit, they’re doing the same thing and working at it, so we know what we have in store for the next three weeks and have to take care of business. That’s where our focus is at. Not a lot of discussion in that way.”
As for the present, Quinn expressed the Gators will not take lightly the challenge they will be facing when Louisiana-Lafayette comes to Gainesville this weekend.
“This is another offense that we’re going to see a lot of three and four or open receiver sets,” Quinn said. “Fortunately for us this year we’ve seen some of those type of offenses, counting Missouri and Texas A&M, new to the SEC that maybe doesn’t play the same style that we’ve been accustomed to. Drawing from those experiences, knowing we’ve had some four and five open set offenses certainly helps. But we have a lot of respect for their offense and the playmakers that they have.”