GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There has been a ton of attention paid to Florida's emphasis on creating more turnovers this spring, and rightly so after a season in which the Gators managed just 14 -- the fewest single-season total since the school began keeping fumble stats in 1950.
But another area in need of significant improvement on defense has gone largely unnoticed: the pass rush.
The Gators had 28 sacks last season, and while that was seven better than the 2010 total, it was still the second-lowest single-season total in the past seven seasons. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn assured everyone on Wednesday that while other people may be overlooking the pass rush this spring, he certainly isn't.
"We've been working hard at it and I think we'll see the benefit," Quinn said.
Defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell has had a very good offseason and spring and has really improved as a pass-rusher, according to Quinn and head coach Will Muschamp. Though he led the Gators in sacks last season (6.0), Muschamp singled out Powell early in the season as someone who needed to make more of an impact in games. He was better toward the end of the season, and he apparently carried that momentum into offseason workouts and back onto the field for spring practice.
"In the offseason he really has had a bunch of focus," Quinn said of the 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior. "He came in to say, 'I'm going to really work at it,' and to his credit his offseason went that way. I think it's kind of almost like a continuation of that, where his work from the offseason program started right away and went into the spring practice. I've been real encouraged by what we've seen. I know he's been really focused and determined to play as well as he can."
Two other players have stood out as well, Quinn said: defensive end/tackle Sharrif Floyd and defensive tackle Damien Jacobs. Both have provided some solid inside pass rush, and Floyd has done a good job on the edge when he's lining up at end, Quinn said. Floyd, a 6-3, 305-pound junior, recorded the first 1.5 sacks of his career last season. Jacobs (6-3, 310) is a junior college transfer.
"Those three are the ones that have provided the most rush for us so far in the spring," Quinn said.
Floyd's situation is interesting. Tackle is his best position, and he could become an All-Southeastern Conference player there, but a lack of depth has forced the Gators to play him at end. He'll bounce between end and tackle this season, Quinn said, unless any of the four incoming defensive ends develop quickly enough to start outside. If that happens, Floyd would spend most of his time inside but would still play some end.
Right now, the plan is to play Floyd at end on first and second down, then move him inside to tackle on third down, Quinn said.
"I’d like to put him there [at tackle permanently]," Quinn said. "He adds value for me for our defense because I know he can do it at end. So my goal when we get everybody here [is] let’s put guys in the best spot to help us win, and really that’s what we’ll do when we get there. He’s had plenty of training this spring at tackle as well, but when we get into training camp, now we can move all the pieces around and make them fit."
The end result, Quinn hopes, is a much better pass rush.