Can Florida's pass rush survive without Dante Fowler?
Replacing one of college football’s premiere pass rushers is no easy feat and Florida could find that out the hard way next season.
Or maybe not.
Dante Fowler set career-bests last fall in nearly every statistical category as a disruptive force at Will Muschamp’s maniacal Buck position. He impressed the Jacksonville Jaguars enough to take him No. 3 overall last month before his rookie campaign was ultiamtely derailed by a knee injury in mini-camp.
So how do the Gators make up for 15 stops behind the line of scrimmage, 8.5 sacks and countless hurries?
That’s where Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister and Taven Bryan come in.
Bullard’s the crafty veteran, a player with 22 career starts with a penchant for sealing the edge. His decision to skip the draft was vital to the success of Geoff Collins’ first-year defense and provides Florida with a reliable, every-down threat on the strong side.
McCalister, a fellow North Carolina native, is the potential star with the look of an elite hybrid defender, long and lean. At 6-foot-6, he’s considerably taller than Fowler and just as quick. What he lacks in overall strength he makes up for with his speed and aggression, evidenced by six sacks last season (second only to Fowler).
The fourth-year junior who quit basketball for his football prowess steps into a starting role for the first time and could earn himself an early exit with a breakout season.
As for Bryan, he was a spring surprise as one of the Gators’ defensive MVPs. He’s likely earned himself a starting nod ahead of Khairi Clark in the middle at defensive tackle.
A redshirt freshman from Wyoming, Bryan was a terror to block during scrimmages for a depleted offensive line and seemed to have an endless motor. He’s made tremendous strides since arriving on campus and is one of Florida’s most improved players.
Between the three pass rushers, Collins is hoping to exceed Fowler’s production with some help from all-league caliber linebackers Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis. We know Florida’s strength on defense is in the secondary with a plethora of returning starters, but the Gators’ personnel at the point of attack next season should be strong as well.