Florida sophomore Dante Fowler Jr. may have more in common with Loucheiz Purifoy than you think. Yes, they will both start on defense for the Gators this fall and they both contributed on the unit last season as well. But what if I told you that Fowler shared Purifoy’s two-way ability?
“Actually my best run was my first touchdown. It was only 1 yard, but it was the best day of my life. After my junior year, I started the last three games [at running back] and I scored like five touchdowns, so I thought I was Reggie Bush or somebody,” Fowler said. “Going into my senior season I was looking forward to playing running back, but I ended up getting hurt. So my dad said I couldn’t play anymore. So that crushed my whole entire senior season.”
Ok, so maybe dreams of RB for Dante Fowler are from a bygone era. Luckily, for Florida’s purposes, the sophomore decided to concentrate all his efforts on playing defensive line in high school, and as he entered college, despite being almost 280 pounds, fit into Will Muschamp’s scheme at the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position called the BUCK. His offensive pedigree gives him a unique perspective at the position.
“I feel like with me being able to play running back and stuff like that, it kind of helps me read the offense, like because I know what they’re going to do sometimes or what they’re getting into or stuff like that. I can take advantage,” Fowler said.
As a freshman, Fowler split time with Lerentee McCray and produced to the tune of 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Fowler also had eight tackles for loss, tied for third most on the team last season. As productive as he was, he was still a backup based on the depth chart, it’s a role he used as a learning experience.
“I was a freshman, so I had to play a freshman role. I wasn’t really expecting to come in here and start and be a big-time defensive end. I would have liked that, but I just came in and did what I was supposed to do to become a great defensive end,” Fowler said.
With McCray graduating, the position is Fowler’s to take over.
He has also developed a relationship with defensive tackle John Bullard. The two plan on joining forces this season, you can call them: The Bash Bros.
“Jon-Jon is like my brother. That’s just how it is. We were two good guys coming out of high school and we told each other we’re just going to have to face the fact of us being compared to each other a lot,” Fowler said.
His fellow Bash Bro saw time as a freshman as well, making 27 tackles and starting two games while appearing in every game last season. Bullard gave some background on where the nickname came from.
“We were sitting around and talking one day, talking about the future we could have together. He just came up with that. I was like, ‘yeah that has a good ‘twang to it,’” Bullard said. He went on to praise Fowler for his physical tools. “I mean the guy has great hips. I work on mine but his I can say are great. Even when he does stuff, I watch it and I talk to him about it but like I said, last year I was more of a set the edge, run guy and he just has natural hips, he’s got great hips.”
The hips aid Fowler in dropping into pass coverage — the hybrid aspect of the BUCK position most defensive ends don’t do. Fowler quipped about always dreaming of playing corner and even worked with defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson on reading receivers to aid his coverage abilities.
While he won’t be matching up with the Malcolm Mitchells and Amari Coopers of the SEC — that’s something he’ll leave up to Purifoy. The need to drop back into coverage on a zone blitz matched up against a tight end, or leak out into the flats and pursue a running back that just received a dump off, is an occupational hazard of playing the BUCK position.
Pass coverage is something he takes seriously and so is getting after the passer and getting sacks. But while he’s been working on his individual craft this offseason in all phases of the game, he knows he’s just part of a bigger picture.
“I really don’t have any sack totals. Whatever I can do to be productive and help our team win and get to the SEC championship.”