Pass rush needs to take the next step in 2013

Powell continues to rehab his ACL injury

The defensive statistics posted by the Florida defense this season showed the improvement from the first year to the second year under Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn. Sixth in rushing defense, 15th in passing defense and third in scoring defense showed the improvement the group made, but there's still one area that needs to take a step forward. The Gators were 52nd in the country in sacks this year.

The best pass rush Florida got at defensive end came from two freshmen — Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler. The freshmen combined for 11.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks this season. Bullard led the team with seven quarterback hurries.

A full offseason in Gainesville under the strength and conditioning program of Jeff Dillman should help them take the next step forward next season.

Fowler should be even better next year

The progression of both players was easy to see on the field in 2012. On the Florida sideline, there was another player waiting to make his mark in 2013. Former five-star recruit Ronald Powell missed the season because of a torn ACL, but Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn expects him to make an immediate impact next season.

"I think Powell will definitely be one talked about in that category," Quinn said. "His first year playing last year (in 2011) had some games up, some games not quite as much. In the spring it was kind of like the analogy I used with Purifoy where he got it. I wish I could have shown you that. The amount that he improved over a spring practice, he was another guy trying to make another big step."

This season, Quinn pointed out players like Jon Bostic, Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd as ones that took the next step in their second season as a starter in the scheme Muschamp and Quinn drew up to run in Gainesville. Powell was set to experience a breakout season like those players before he tore his ACL in the 2012 spring game.

Powell totaled six sacks during 2011 as a sophomore, and that total would've led the Gators in the 2012 season. But the expectation is for Powell to take a step forward next year.

"Sharrif Floyd, big step from year one to year two, in terms of from full time starter for one year. Easley is one and Bostic, although he started a lot more, really improved," Quinn said. "I saw Powell in that same light. He would be another one to jump up and improve.

Powell showed improvement in 2011

With the 10 seasons Quinn spent in the NFL, the offseason was different. It was about signing free agents and drafting rookies that could help an area of the team improve. One of the reasons he enjoys college football is that it's different. It's a more hands on approach that allows Quinn and the other coaches fix the weaknesses on their own.

"In college football, one of the cool things is how some of the players develop," Quinn said. "It's one thing from me coaching I do enjoy in coaching college, you can see the improvement happen so quickly, and so for some of those guys that kind of improvement, it happens so fast that you get fired up about it."

Quinn pointed to Bullard, Fowler and Powell as ones that he expects to take another step forward during spring practice. He also mentioned Dominique Easley, who currently leads the Gators with four sacks this season, as a player that should get better in the pass rush next season if he elects to return for his senior season.

Easley missed two games this season because of soreness in his knee, which was surgically repaired after the final regular season game in 2011.

"Our pass rush has to improve in our four man rush," Quinn said.

Bullard will play a big role in 2013

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