GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators coach Will Muschamp considers “potential” a dirty word.
In his view, that usually means a player’s reputation outweighs his performance. That was the case at times for Florida’s defensive line in Muschamp’s first season, but as the season progressed, the production picked up.
That fact has Muschamp excited about this group’s – here is that word again – potential entering the 2012 season.
“When you talk about names like Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell … all of those guys were first‑time starters last year for an entire season,’’ Muschamp said. “I think they are really good football players.
“We inherited a good, young talented team. All those guys are back, a year more mature. I'm excited about what we can do on that side of the ball.”
The Gators return 10 starters on defense and 15 of their top 16 tacklers from a season ago. While the defensive line lost Jaye Howard, with Floyd, Easley, Powell and veteran Omar Hunter back, this group has talent and valuable experience from last season.
How soon Powell can return from a knee injury he suffered in the spring game is the unit’s biggest question mark. The defensive line features newcomers such as Damien Jacobs and Jonathan Bullard who could help offset Powell’s absence if they can make an immediate impact.
With fall camp opening Friday, GatorZone.com is taking a look at each position group this week. Here is a glance at the defensive line:
No. 2 Dominique Easley (Jr., 6-2, 286)
At a glance: He spent the offseason recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the regular-season finale against Florida State. Easley started 12 games at defensive tackle last year and provides the line with energy with his aggressive style of play.
Muschamp has indicated that Easley’s recovery has gone well and that he will ready to go at the start of camp. He finished fifth on the team in 2011 with 37 tackles.
No. 4 Damien Jacobs (Jr., 6-3, 310)
At a glance: A junior-college transfer from East Mississippi Community College, Jacobs enrolled in January and is expected to contribute immediately. He originally signed with Florida State out of high school but spent two seasons at East Mississippi CC, where he developed into a formidable run-stopper at defensive tackle.
No. 7 Ronald Powell (Jr., 6-4, 250)
At a glance: Powell suffered a torn ACL in the spring game and won’t be available at the start of the season. However, all reports are that Powell’s rehab is ahead of schedule and Muschamp is hopeful he can return to the field around October.
Powell led the Gators with six sacks a year ago and really came on toward the end of the season at the hybrid defensive end/linebacker “Buck” position in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s system.
No. 44 Leon Orr (RS So., 6-5, 305)
At a glance: The former offensive lineman played in all 13 games last season, recording 10 stops at defensive tackle. Orr has an opportunity to play a much bigger role this season if he shows drastic improvement in fall camp.
No. 58 Nick Alajajian (Sr., 6-4, 285)
At a glance: Another former offensive lineman, Alajajian made his first career start at left tackle in the Gator Bowl win over Ohio State. He moved to defensive line to add depth and will continue to play a key role on special teams.
No. 73 Sharrif Floyd (Jr., 6-3, 305)
At a glance: Floyd has potential to be the defensive line’s top playmaker if he continues to develop and avoids injury. A natural defensive tackle, Floyd is expected to split snaps between tackle and end.
According to Quinn, Floyd has improved as a pass rusher to go along with his natural skills as a dependable force in the middle against the run. He has 69 career tackles, including 13 for loss in his first two seasons.
No. 90 Jonathan Bullard (Fr., 6-3, 263)
At a glance: Bullard arrives from Crest Senior High in Shelby, N.C., the same school that produced former Gators standout Brandon Spikes. Rivals.com ranked Bullard the No. 1 strongside defensive end prospect in the country coming out of high school. He could factor into the mix as a true freshman.
No. 91 Earl Okine (RS Sr., 6-7, 266)
At a glance: Okine has played in 28 games during his career, mostly on special teams. He had eight tackles and one pass break-up as a junior. He needs to continue to improve to get more consistent snaps on the defensive line.
No. 93 Kedric Johnson (RS Jr., 6-4, 232)
At a glance: The former Palmetto High standout appeared in 12 games last year, finishing with five tackles. Much like Okine, Johnson needs to show the coaching staff more consistent play to crack the regular rotation.
No. 94 Bryan Cox Jr. (Fr., 6-3, 247)
At a glance: Cox played linebacker and defensive end in high school, missing significant time as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas due to a wrist injury. The Gators’ coaching staff likes his toughness and football IQ, reminiscent of his father, former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox. How quickly he develops and depth concerns will determine if he plays or is redshirted as a true freshman.
No. 96 Jafar Mann (Fr., 6-3, 293)
At a glance: Mann has excellent size for a true freshman and his future appears at defensive tackle. He played at Stone Mountain Stephenson (Ga.) High last year and is a possibility for a redshirt as a true freshman.
No. 98 Quinteze Williams (Fr., 6-5, 255)
At a glance: Another Georgia product, Williams has vast potential as an interior lineman who appears likely to be redshirted as a true freshman. He helped Sandy Creek (Ga.) High win a state title as a junior.
No. 99 Omar Hunter (RS Sr., 6-1, 314)
At a glance: Hunter has been a regular in the Gators’ lineup the past two seasons and is a wide body counted on to clog the running lanes. Hunter has played in 43 career games, including 18 starts.
He is expected to play mostly nose tackle coming off a season in which he recorded 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and one forced fumble.