Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn had plenty to say just over a week before the 2012 regular season is set to begin and did exactly that on Thursday afternoon. Quinn discussed the team’s reserve linebackers, how the secondary is shaping up and who is stepping up in the pass rush.
VERSATILITY IN THE MIDDLE
Not every defensive coordinator is lucky enough to have two terrific inside linebackers like senior Jon Bostic (Mike) and redshirt junior Jelani Jenkins (Will). According to Quinn on Thursday, his embarrassment of riches extends to their reserves as both redshirt sophomore Michael Taylor and true freshman Antonio Morrison are making themselves known during practice.
Taylor, the primary back-up to Bostic in 2011, said recently that he has been switching between Mike and Will in practice in order to become more versatile. That is good news considering Quinn somewhat revealed that it will be Morrison behind Bostic this season.
“This guy is really coming on,” he said. “I like his instincts. I like his toughness. I think he’s got a big future ahead of him, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Quinn did say, however, that both Morrison and Taylor can play either inside position and that he is completely comfortable with moving them back and forth until he figures out which player is best at which position.
SECONDARY COMING TOGETHER BUT NOT YET SET
It should be no surprise junior Matt Elam and senior Josh Evans will be starting at safety for the Gators, though it was interesting when Quinn noted that junior Cody Riggs has been spending plenty of time back there after mostly serving as a cornerback and nickel corner in 2011.
Riggs along with junior Jaylen Watkins and sophomores Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy are all competing for the two starting cornerback jobs though Quinn pointed out (just like head coach Will Muschamp has repeatedly) that the team will probably be starting three each game and all four will see plenty of time on the field.
“It’s nice having so many of those guys return, know the same language going into training camp and moving forward,” he said. “I kind of have a feeling it will work itself out like it usually does through the course of the season and as we get through a few ballgames.”
IMPROVING THE PASS RUSH
Read the rest of what Quinn had to say on Thursday…after the break!
“Affecting the quarterback” was a term thrown around a lot by Muschamp and Quinn in 2011 despite the fact that Florida did not have much success doing so last year. With some developed veterans, a returning talent and a bunch of young players, Quinn anticipates the Gators being much better in that area this season.
He said Thursday that redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray, redshirt sophomore Buck/Sam LB Neiron Ball, freshman Buck LB Dante Fowler, redshirt senior defensive end Earl Okine and freshman DE Jonathan Bullard will all see plenty of playing time while being the primary pass rushers in 2012.
Quinn is especially excited about one player in particular, who may very well have the inside track to be the reserve behind McCray. “I’m anxious to see what Neiron Ball can bring to us,” he said. “He’s a really quick guy. He’s long and fast and as a rusher, those are really some of the traits you look for in a rusher. [...] For me [this] was my first real experience getting a chance to coach him and work with him.”
Quinn also said that he has recently begun emphasizing his players winning their one-on-one battles when rushing the quarterback and plans to focus more on rushing the passer in games this season than he did last year.
“At times I wish I had more last year,” he said. “We had it in the package, and I’d like to see us play that style because that’s really who we are and want to be: A team that’s physical, can stop the run, affect the QB and win on third down with whatever that is – with pressure, with a four-man rush, however we have to do on third down to get the wins.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On junior Buck LB Ronald Powell, who Quinn expects back this season: “The doctors will handle all the stuff. When you watch a guy go through what he’s done and the work that he’s put in, it does give you a sense of pride about the way a guy has handled himself that is a part of your group.”
» On the amount of respect the players have for Powell: “I think they see and respect him instantly. Sometimes as a player you respect the other guys by seeing them at practice, how hard somebody works. Like, ‘Man, look at that guy.’ You might have heard somebody was a good player, but until you’re out their practicing him it’s like, ‘He’s the real deal.’ With him the respect came. They saw who he was as a player, but they also saw that he’s in every meeting and that he’s out doing extra and that kind of thing.”
» On if he limited the practice time of junior DE Dominique Easley, who is coming off a torn ACL: “I knew I had to do some limitations just for anybody coming off an ACL, so he was no different in that way. He looks good and ready to rock. I think he’s ready to go. [...] I’m pretty pleased with where he’s at. His conditioning level is good, strength’s good.”
» Quinn said that freshman Brian Poole, who is seeing time at both cornerback and safety, is improving each day because he’s getting stronger which (along with his long arms) helps him in press coverage at the line of scrimmage. He said that they are still working with him to improve how he plays off the ball, such as where he puts his eyes.
» On how Fowler progressed throughout training camp: “I think during camp all the guys were gassed at the end. I think when you’re a freshman, and we can all remember going through something for the first time, it’s like, ‘Man, when is this going to end.’ To their credit, I think he is somebody who really pushed through and took each day and said, ‘All right, I’m going to work on this thing today so let’s go out and do it.’ I give him a lot of credit. He came through and was ready to go. He certainly looks like he belongs – he’s physically strong. And when he’s out there practicing you certainly say, ‘This guy’s ready to help and be a part of our defense, that’s for sure.’”
» On junior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who has improved his conditioning and ability to rush the passer: “He’s lighter. When he first came in, he was heavier and his conditioning wasn’t as good for the first spring practice. That was one of the things – I think he really changed his body over the summer and how hard he worked. Now you can really see his quickness come out, and I think he adds another inside rusher for us. That’s a role that I’m anxious to see him develop over the course of the first couple of games.”