National Signing Day 2012: How Dante Fowler's Switch Impacts the Florida Gators

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National Signing Day 2012: How Dante Fowler's Switch Impacts the Florida Gators
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Florida might have signed Ronald Powell's new backup in freshman Dante Fowler, Jr.

At a recent all-star football game, a group of Florida Gators commitments gathered for a photograph.

Standing not so far away was St. Petersburg Lakewood defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr., a 5-star prospect who was a longtime pledge to arch-rival Florida State.

Within a few seconds, Fowler started hearing his name.

It seems the UF commits were telling the 6'3", 232-pound pass-rusher to drop the charade and join in the picture, because everyone knew he was going to end up signing a National Letter of Intent with the Gators.

Perhaps actually believing they were wrong or maybe playing coy, Fowler laughed them off.

However, as it turned out, they were right. And on Wednesday morning, Fowler faxed a LOI to Florida coach Will Muschamp.

In a post-signing interview with ESPN.com's Derek Tyson, Fowler explained his switch was made because of Muschamp's defensive background, a favorable depth chart and the praise that recently retired NFL defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Taylor heaped on Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

So, what now?

At this point, if he proves ready, Fowler appears to be a strong candidate to back up Ronald Powell at the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end "Buck" position as a true freshman. That role asks players to primarily be pass-rushers, while also asking them to drop into coverage like a linebacker and take on (and beat) blockers like an end.

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It could be beneficial to play behind a veteran like Powell since Fowler probably isn't ready to be a three-down player yet. He has a strong frame, but does need to put on some weight if he is going to spend some time lining up in the defensive front four.

Additionally, the possibility exists that Powell, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2010, could leave UF after next season for the NFL. That said, while nobody questions the 6'4", 248-pound junior-to-be's athleticism and potential, he may need a breakout 2012 season to bag the "what-could-be" label and become a pro-ready prospect.

And playing behind someone with talent and something to prove (Powell has just seven sacks in two full seasons; though, in fairness, he has had a different coordinator each year), Fowler could learn a lot. Plus, if he is too good to keep off the field, Fowler could help Powell stay fresh—meaning tired offensive linemen could be chasing two speedy Bucks throughout the third and fourth quarters in 2012.

Powell's signing also means UF inked Rivals' No. 1 defensive end (Jonathan Bullard), No. 3 end (Fowler), No. 22 end (Quinteze Williams), No. 26 end (Alex McCalister) and No. 37 end (Bryan Cox, Jr.).

The signing of Fowler also affected the Seminoles, though in the opposite manner.

FSU assistant coach Mark Stoops told ESPN's Janine Edwards in a live interview that losing Fowler was, "a big disappointment...it would have been fun to have that kid—he just brings something different to the table."

That's something Gator coaches and fans can't wait to see.

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