Powell, Fowler rush Gators defense up a notch

By Adam Silverstein
August 15, 2013

If Will Muschamp is to believe what he sees on the practice fields, the Florida Gators may have finally put together a reliable and consistent pass rushing duo for the first time in his tenure as the head coach in Gainesville, FL.

Couple the return of redshirt junior Ronald Powell with the emergence of sophomore Dante Fowler, Jr., and the Gators have a potentially productive one-two punch that could very well move Florida’s defense from a top-five contender to best in the nation.

Powell, who missed the entire 2012 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament that was ruptured again during practice just as he was set to return to the field, is finally off of doctors’ tables and on the field for the Gators. He worked out with the team all summer long and shined for Florida early on when fall camp convened.

“He’s really excited to practice, and I’m maybe more excited than him to see him on the field in practice,” Muschamp said of Powell. “I’ve been through these situations before with guys that come back from injuries. You just manage them through it, and sometimes with a guy like him, it’s hard to manage it because he’s going to want to go, go, go all the time, and there are days we’re going to want to shut him down and make sure we prepare him the right way for a long season.

“But I have tremendous expectations of where he is. The strength levels are very good. The knee is very stable. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s in really good shape. He’s worked as hard as any of our players have all summer to put himself in a situation to have a great year.”

Fans will get the first opportunity to see Powell practice on Thursday evening as the Gators open up the first of four camps to the public. But if new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s evaluation of him thus far is any indication, Powell may very well be in for the double-digit sack season he hoped to achieve as a true sophomore in 2011.


“He’s now just kind of getting in his groove. We’re 14 practices in and he’s doing a great job. We’re seeing the flashes of No. 7 to say, alright, we got what we think we had,” Durkin said on Wednesday. “There’s a plan that we put in place, but you always want to see it unfold and see him go out there and do it. I’m just really excited for him. I know he had a lot of anxiety about coming back and all that. He’s doing really well out there in contact drills and doing great. I’m looking forward to seeing him get out on the field.”

Muschamp and the training staff have been understandably cautious with Powell. Though he is a full participant in practice, he does not compete in every drill and takes necessary time off during camp to remain fresh and not put too much strain on his knees. Nevertheless, Powell looks like his old self, which is undoubtedly refreshing for a Florida team that has been dealing with numerous injuries already this fall.

“As far as his quickness, his change of direction, initial quickness off the ball, looks very good. [I] feel very good with that,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to be very selective with him with what we’re asking him to do throughout practice. We need a fresh player on Aug. 31 [for the season-opener against Toledo].

“What I’ve done now is kind of marked periods of when he’s going and when he’s not going and just making sure we’re taking care of that. When you come off [a torn ACL], it’s a tough deal, especially two of them. But I’ve been very pleased with where he is. He’s part of our rabbit package right now, and he’s rushing the passer very well.”

Powell has moved over to Sam linebacker from the BUCK position he first held when Muschamp took over the program. That switch was necessary due to the emergence of Fowler, an explosive pass rusher that started one game as a true freshman but played plenty as a reserve in 2012, amassing 2.5 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss in 13 games.

Fowler (6-foot-3, 263 pounds), like Powell (6-foot-4, 234-pounds), is everything Muschamp wants in a pass rusher. He has size, strength, speed and explosiveness and has a knack for tracking down players and tackling in open space when he is not headed towards the quarterback.

“Dante, he’s an impressive football player. He’s a rare mix of a guy his size that can move as well as he does and he plays really, really physical,” said Durkin. “The great thing about Dante is he practices hard every single day. Every day you see him in meetings, on the field, he’s got a big smile on his face. He just loves competing, loves football and he’s hungry.

“He’s one of the best guys to coach on the team. He takes coaching really well. A guy with that ability level that takes coaching, the sky’s the limit.”

Muschamp likes to refer to Powell and Fowler as “heavy handed at the point of attack.” The two players are “strong in their hands and their upper body [and] both have tremendous pass-rush ability,” he says, which has allowed Florida to practice more 3-4 formations than it did a year ago.

“We tweak and fit our systems every year, and we’re multiple enough to do that and to be able to do some different things based on our players,” Muschamp said.

Fowler is excited about the opportunity to attack the quarterback more.

“I feel like our pass rush is going to be a lot better,” Fowler said on Thursday. “I know last year we played a lot of DBs on the field, but I know this year I think Champ is going to let us pin our ears back a little more and rush a lot. By how it’s looking in camp, I think it’s going to be really good.”

For a Gators team that lost 13 starters from a year ago and is looking to rebuild a linebacking group depleted by graduation and the 2013 NFL Draft, Powell and Fowler bring much-needed talent and experience. Coupled with some luck and a couple breakthrough talents, a perceived weakness may develop into a big-time strength for Florida before the season is out.

“When you take guys like that, that are versatile like Ronald Powell – and Dante Fowler is another guy that can go stand up and play defensive line – in the mix with Michael Taylor, Antonio Morrison and those guys inside, those are legitimate football players,” explained Durkin. “They play really physical. They run well. They can do a lot of things. It allows us to be more multiple and not so predictable in what we’re doing.”

It also provides an opportunity for the Gators’ defense, which has at times struggled to get to the quarterback over the last few seasons, to be even more dominant.

14 Comments

  1. Spike says:

    Don’t sleep on Bullard. I believe he was statistically better than Fowler last year and is also a beast.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Bullard is special. Says a lot about our defense that an article like this one doesn’t even mention him. I’m trying to keep myself under control but, man, it’s hard not to get excited about this football team.

  2. Andy says:

    That’s why they moved Powell to LB

  3. Timmy T says:

    Been saying it for 9 months now. The Gators will be absolutely insane on defense if everybody is healthy and not in trouble off the field. If the offense does its part, the sky’s the limit!! The key is playing smart. No late hits. No stupid ass motion penalties. Make routine field goals. Keep flipping the field on punts. Turn them over and don’t turn it over. Simple enough. lol

    Seriously, this team can be on top when all is said and done.

    • Tractorr says:

      Then only real problem will be lack of experienced safeties. Probably shouldn’t be a huge problem but I foresee us giving up at least a couple of big plays due to blown coverage.

    • Michael Jones says:

      I’m with you all the way, Timmy T.

      I’m a little bummed about Matt Jones right now, though. I’m a little worried about how hard a hit he’s taken strength-wise, particularly since he is a power runner who worked his butt off all off-season to become an animal. But I’ve also always been a big believer in Mack Brown. Hopefully he’ll come through while Matt is getting his body back into the shape it was in before he got sick.

  4. sjkoepp says:

    I’m really excited for this year. I think we’ve improved in just about every area on offense. I’m really concerned about out D Line and Safeties though. The LBs seem to be coming along but it’s tough to replace matt and sharrif. If we can fill those holes I agree that we can be pretty nasty once again.

  5. ConnGator says:

    I see potential. Miami game will test our defense, LSU game will test out offense. By then we will know if we can take it to the house.

    Go Gators

  6. brlgator says:

    Inexperience at safety is a weakness of our defense BUT dont discount how much a reliable and tenacious pass rush can help our safeties. The less time qbs have to the throw the less of a threat they are…

  7. Courtney says:

    Would much rather go into a season with questions at safety, the say d line or linebacker. With boom personally coaching the secondary in not worried. Dunlap and Cunningham anyone?… His injury may have been a blessing in disguise.

  8. Michael Jones says:

    Powell was ready to explode last year. But for his injury, I believe that they would have been talking about him and Clowney in the same conversation. He’ll be a top ten draft pick by the time this season’s over.

  9. swampem says:

    Fowler (6-foot-3, 263 pounds) must of bulked up over the off season. I don’t remember him being that big. I’d hate to get hit by that train.

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