Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday just two days before the conclusion of spring practice with Saturday’s 2014 Orange & Blue Debut to discuss what fans can look forward to in the game.
Junior BUCK defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. played some dominant football for the Gators in 2013 but there were also times he failed to make a significant impact.
Durkin is pleased with how his star pass rusher has not only been playing but also handling the offseason, noting that he can see the difference both in his ability and commitment to being a better all-around member of the program.
“The biggest difference with Dante is his consistency. We can all look at last year and say there were games where he played really, really well, was almost a dominant player…and there were games where that wasn’t there,” he explained.
“That was our challenge to him going into spring ball and going into next season. He’s really done that in the spring. He’s playing really determined. He understands. He sees it the same way. He took that challenge the right way. He’s been great all spring. He’s stepped up as a leader as well. He’s leading by example.”
Fowler was tired of his coaches taking away perks and some of the fancier things that the players get when they were under-performing and took it upon himself to ensure that Florida is no longer punished for giving a “4-and-8 effort” in practice.
“It’s my job to always have a good game. Just consistency, being consistent the whole game, not being hot one game and then cold one game. I just want to be consistent every time, be on my game every time. I don’t want to play bad ball, going to work on my craft and things like that,” he said.
Fowler also went out of his way to praise the rest of the players on his defense.
“There’s a lot of ballers out here,” he said.
He was not the only one.
“I think it’s gone really well. Our guys have really addressed the things we’ve asked them to do in terms of consistency, getting better with technique, consistent effort. We’ve got some young guys out there getting reps, which you always do in spring. I really think they’ve made good strides and gotten better. I like where we’re at,” added Durkin.
A WELCOME RETURN
A reserve who primarily played special teams during his freshman season, safety Keanu Neal is expected to make a huge jump heading into his sophomore campaign.
Consider this: Even though Neal missed a large chunk of spring practice while recovering from a lingering hamstring injury, he is penciled in as a starter in Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut and has received nothing but praise from Durkin and head coach Will Muschamp since the player’s return.
“It’s great to have him back,” said Durkin.
“He plays the game at a really high speed. When he’s on the field, you feel him. You know he’s out there. You can see it. He plays fast. He’s very physical. He’s a guy that now understands our defense better. He’s been in there a little while. He’ll absolutely be playing a number of spots for us. He’s physical enough to do a lot of things for us, and he runs really well too so he has coverage ability. He has everything you’re looking for in a safety.”
» Durkin on how redshirt sophomore DE Alex McCalister has improved: “He’s learning to play the game better. He’s a guy we knew out of high school was going to be a little more of a project. He was more of a basketball player more than anything, but you sit there and say his potential and ceiling is really, really high and he’s making great strides to get there. This is the best set of football he’s put together this spring camp. He’s really a guy that now we can say can go into games and really help us. It’s been great. He’s responded really well. He’s learning the game. Coach [Brad] Lawing is working with him on technique and all that and he’s taking coaching and it’s showing up.”
» Durkin on why junior linebacker Antonio Morrison did not take a bigger step last season: “He’s played really well. He’s playing really good football. I think we’ve challenged him as well in terms of consistency. Everything was inconsistent last year in terms of just week to week with him and what was going on – on and off the field – all those things. I think Antonio is really, really focused on improving. I think his freshman year here, he did a lot of great things and played really good football. I don’t think he took enough of a step forward his second year as was expected and what he should have done. He sees it that way, too, and I think he’s taken that challenge the right way and really done a great job this spring. I think he’s having a great, great year for us.”
Durkin on sophomore LB Daniel McMillian stepping his game up this offseason: “Daniel is a guy that it took a little longer to pick things up in terms of what we’re doing defensively and learning and all that. He has put together his best set of football this spring. He is now understanding it and doing a really good job. No one works harder than Daniel McMillian off the field. He spends a ton of time on his own watching film, coming up asking questions. He really works hard in the meeting room, and he’s made it a point to learn that. He’s a really talented guy and he can play a lot of football. That’s always been the thing holding him back. He knows that. He’s addressed it. He’s had a great spring and he’ll play quite a bit this year for us.”
Durkin on redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye playing well as of late (he will be active for the spring game): “He’s doing good. He’s having a great spring. In terms of the spring game, I’m not sure what his status will be on that. He’s got nothing serious wrong with him. He got dinged up, but he’s been out there all spring and he’s doing great. We’re expecting really big things from him.”
Durkin on freshman cornerback Duke Dawson‘s impact during his first set of practices: “He has shown up a bunch and obviously his teammates have taken notice, too. He has shown up to be a guy with coverage ability and play physical. He does well in live situations where there’s tackling and hitting going on. He’s done a great job with it. We’re excited about him, too.”