3/28: Durkin talks Gators defense, evaluations

By Adam Silverstein
March 28, 2013

Now two weeks into 2013 spring football practice, Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday to discuss some of the latest developments surrounding the team and provide updates on specific players.

KEY TO THE DEFENSE: BUCK LINEBACKER

Head coach Will Muschamp, above all else, has stressed creating turnovers and affecting the quarterback as two of his main tent poles for a successful defense. The Gators made great strides in the former category in 2012, coming away from the season with a +15 turnover margin (30 total turnovers gained) compared to a -12 margin (14 total turnovers gained) in 2011.

As far as affecting the quarterbacks with sacks is concerned, Florida was not as successful. As a team, the Gators registered 28 sacks in 2011 and finished with just two more for 30 in 2012. Though Florida was able to apply more pressure, it did not always result in getting the quarterback to a ground.

Part of the reason the Gators were unable to make bigger strides in that area was the fact that they were not playing with their ideal personnel at the Buck linebacker position, the key to Muschamp’s defense. Redshirt junior Ronald Powell missed the entire season with a torn ACL, so Lerentee McCray stepped up as the starter and freshman Dante Fowler, Jr. got a look as well. Now with Powell expected to be healthy for the fall, Durkin is confident that Florida will be able to get more production from the position.

“Scheme is one thing but when you got the guys out there that are hard to block, that’s another thing. It adds another dimension to it. With those guys, we really feel good about our one-on-one match-ups. When we get those guys one-on-one, we should be winning more than we’re losing,” he said Thursday.

Powell is not healthy enough yet to practice, but the Gators appear confident that he will be able to suit up when fall practice rolls around.


“Ronald has been doing an unbelievable job. That guy is incredible, how relentless he is with his rehab and how he works with things. He’s been through a tough time obviously [injuring] the ACL and then reinjuring it and going through that whole process again. He does it. He brings it every day to his rehab and what he’s doing,” Durkin said. “We fully feel he’s going to be back and strong and ready to go and ready to compete when camp gets here in August. I know that’s what he’s shooting for. We all know it, too. That guy, it will be a great day for all of us that know Ronald and coach him and play with him when he’s able to get back out there on the field because of how hungry he is.”

As far as Fowler is concerned, Durkin liked what he saw during his freshman campaign and is pleased with the way the player has progressed thus far in spring practice.

“Dante, obviously, this is his first spring. He came to us late in the summer last year. This is really his first go-around,” he explained. “He’s an unbelievably gifted football player. He’s just going to continue getting better and better. He’s very coachable. He’s always asking what else he can do, what he needs to do better. He’s a pleasure to coach. I think that guy has a really bright future ahead of him.”

Durkin said Florida will find a way to play Powell and Fowler simultaneously if both players are indeed healthy to start the season. Options for getting them both on the field include playing one at Sam linebacker or defensive end while the other mans the Buck position. Either way, the Gators will be better with both playing instead of rotating.

“Obviously Ron when healthy and Dante healthy, they’re both going to be in our top-11 guys. We’ll do some things to make sure they’re both out there playing,” Durkin said. “The greatest thing to have as a coach is competition. It makes everyone better. Competition is worth a thousand words. Those guys out there, they both know and respect the other one and know how good they are as players. They’re going to make each other better and they’re both going to make our team better. We’ll figure all that stuff out as we get to it.”

SAFETIES NOT YET SETTLED

The entire middle of Florida’s defense will be filled with new starters this season as the Gators will be replacing two defensive tackles, two middle linebackers and both safeties. While the other two positions are relatively solid, safety remains in flux.

Junior Jabari Gorman has received some glowing reviews at the position in the early going, as has redshirt junior Cody Riggs, a cornerback who played some nickel for Muschamp in 2011 and missed nearly the entire 2012 season with the foot injury. Riggs has been doing plenty of work at safety in spring and appears to have garnered some confidence from the coaching staff.

“It’s going really well. Cody’s another older guy, experienced guy who has an understanding of the defense. That helps him a lot to be in the right place at the right time. He’s embracing the transition and the role playing safety, and we’re very pleased with it,” Durkin said.

“Someone that can play corner and safety is very valuable to a defense. When you have safeties that are able to cover, it allows you to do a lot more things in terms of pressure and those sorts. We’re very pleased with Cody.”

Another player making major strides in the defensive backfield is redshirt freshman Marcus Maye, who joined the Gators with a tear in his meniscus and did not practice with the team until the workouts leading up to the bowl game. Maye caught Muschamp’s eye then and has continued to look good in the spring.

“This is the first time he’s actually going through football and really learning our defense,” Durkin said. “We’re very pleased with Marcus and what he’s done. I think Marcus is going to be a great player for us.”

Though Gorman, Riggs and Maye are standing out early, Durkin noted that Florida is not settled at the position and was not planning to be by this point in the offseason. “We want to kind ofl et that play out, get through spring and see where we’re at,” he said.

PLAYER EVALUATIONS

» Freshman linebacker Daniel McMillian: “He flashes of what we thought he was, which is a guy that has unbelievable ability and talent. He’ll be a great player eventually. He’s still learning the defense, which is common for a freshman, a guy of his age. It’s coming in flashes right now. We’d like him to be more consistent. It’s not there yet but he’ll be just fine, he’s going through the normal process.”

» Sophomore LB Antonio Morrison (on when he knew he would be an impact player): “The first day we put pads on. The first day he was allowed to hit someone he made it very clear that the likes hitting people. And we like people who like hitting people on defense. He made that statement very early on. The players recognized it, the coaches recognized it, it was pretty clear. We knew we had something there – obviously with the other abilities that he has – we knew we had a guy that was going to play and help us.”

» Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (on if he’s happy to have him back on defense): “Absolutely. Thrilled to have Loucheiz. Loucheiz to me is a dynamic player. He’s a great guy to put out there at corner match-up. You feel better about playing some man defense and some press when he’s out there.”

» Defensive tackles senior Damien Jacobs and redshirt junior Leon Orr: “Both of those guys have done well. Both those guys need to play with more consistency. That’s something that goes along with the whole group, playing consistent with pad level and hand placement every day. Damien and Leon are both having their best spring. The best football [they’ve played] since they’ve been here has been put together in the past 9-10 practices. Their effort has been great. Those guys are competing like crazy to play. They know what’s on the line. They want to be the starter, be the guy, and they know they’re competing for snaps. Effort has not been an issue at all.”

» Junior transfer DT Darious Cummings: “He’s doing a great job. Darious has been a very pleasant – I don’t want to say ‘surprise’ – but that was a guy we brought in thinking we were getting a certain type of player and he is who we through he was. That’s always a good thing. He’s another guy that’s done some really good things out there. We want to be more consistent and be every day and that’s all part of the process, too. He can really help us this year. We’re going to count on him.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On how he is adjusting to his new role as defensive coordinator: “Definitely not the same old. It’s new and it’s different. It’s been great and I’m enjoying it. It’s exciting every day. You kind of get in your routine or your grove doing another thing and now it’s all different and new. It’s been great, a great staff of guys to work with and a great group of players, too. Our guys have really bought in to what we’re trying to get done. We have a way of doing things here and they know that and believe it in and that’s how we do it.”

» On new defensive line coach Brad Lawing: “He’s been great. He brings a wealth of knowledge of the position, a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position. He’s a great staff guy, great guy to work with. He’s done a great job molding some of the things he’s done for a long time into what we do and putting it in terms of our scheme and we’ve also changed some things up a little bit the way we do it because of how he coaches it. It’s worked really well that way. I think he’ll be a great asset to our staff and our players. Our guys are all seeing it as well. He does a great job.”

2 Comments

  1. Donnie wise says:

    Coach Mushchamp and company seem to be able to identify talent extremely well. There’s a great chance the defense could be better this year then they were last season and with the players that were lost to the draft/graduation it should be a weakness. I for one am extremely excited about the future of this team and program which I honestly couldn’t say last spring.

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