GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida might not have end/linebacker Ronald Powell for another month or so as he continues his rehab from a torn left ACL, but defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is still encouraged that the Gators' pass rush will improve.
It's mainly a result of just having more bodies, which allows for more rotation and fresher players. And fresher players make better pass rushers, especially in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. The addition of freshmen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr., plus the return of linebacker Neiron Ball from injury, bolsters a group that didn't get consistent pressure on the quarterback until the final two games of the season.
"Even with Ronald not being available to us yet, with the addition of Ball, with the addition of [Lerentee] McCray moving down [to end from linebacker], with the addition of Bullard, with the addition of Fowler, and the existing guys, it seems like the lines [for pass-rush drills in practice] are longer," Quinn said Thursday night. "That’s a good thing."
Florida had 28 sacks last season, but 10 of those came in the final two games against Florida State (four) and Ohio State (six). Powell led the team with six sacks, and defensive tackle Jaye Howard added 5.5. That's nearly half the team's total from two players. Outside of Powell, UF's other defensive ends combined for three sacks.
Obviously improving the pass rush was one of the defense's top two priorities during camp (more turnovers was the other). One thing Quinn did in the offseason is watch film to determine how many one-on-one battles UF's pass-rushers won last season. There weren't many.
Quinn's solution, though, wasn't more one-on-one drills. It was sending four defensive linemen against five offensive linemen in a pass-rush drill. One lineman was double-teamed, but the other three were one-on-one and that helped give the drill the feel of a game situation.
"Five offensive linemen vs. four pass rushers with a quarterback down there," Quinn said. "[Offensive line coach] Tim [Davis] and I hadn’t really done that before. It was easy for us to get together and say ‘Hey, let’s go 5-on-4.’ We’ve done it down in Miami when I was down there. He liked that, and I did, too. I felt like it’s been good for us.
"Sometimes in one-on-one there is a lot of space and timing is different. When you get into a team aspect, when it is five guys against four in closed quarters, it really makes you work the skills harder."