Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Florida's roster is without some of the fine defensive players it had in 2012. And yet it may be the defensive line that has the best chance of being Florida's strength in 2013.
Florida's 2012 defense was elite, maybe historically great. But the 2013 version will be missing four senior starters and two more likely first-round NFL Draft seletcions, prompting concerns about whether it is losing too much for the Gators to contend in the SEC in 2013. But Florida's losing a top-five 2013 NFL Draft pick in Sharrif Floyd on the defensive line — and yet the line may well be Florida's strength on defense.
Florida has three five-star defensive ends on the roster, in Ronald Powell (training at BUCK, but with significant defensive line chops), Jonathan Bullard, and Dante Fowler, Jr.; I named both Bullard and Fowler to my list of the top 15 freshmen in college football in 2012, and I think both have the starting positions at defensive end sewn up if Florida starts in a 4-3 alignment. Heck, Bullard and Fowler could play at tackle and end, respectively, in a 3-4 alignment.
And then there's Dominique Easley, Florida's murderbear, the guy who does things like get on the ground for punt block attempts on Louisville's only punt of the night in the Sugar Bowl — the TV broadcast didn't show this, but Easley and Matt Elam both did that, and I marked out for it. He's pretty good, too.
All four of those guys can play defensive end, and all assuredly will at some point in 2013. That's what makes Florida's talent at defensive end its best at any position entering the spring.
But the talent and the depth makes it both the Gators' best-stocked position and its best: Florida has plenty of depth at cornerback, and will be adding a mega-talent in Vernon Hargreaves III in the fall, but its corners have more holes (Loucheiz Purifoy's coverage skills; Jaylen Watkins' consistency) than Bullard or Fowler do.
And there's just no other position on the Florida roster that combines talent and experience in surplus like defensive end: Running back has a couple of well-regarded players, but has one guy who has made a start returning; linebacker is not without talent, just without experience; offensive tackle has a few more big-time players who have done more sitting than playing so far.
Florida's pass rush has been pedestrian in the first two years of Will Muschamp's tenure, with the Gators preferring to lay back, play sound assignment football, and let offenses flail against them. With the stockpile of premier pass-rushers in the fold, expect that to change in 2013.