Florida Football: Which Gators Pass-Rushers Can Combat Texas A&M's Elite Tackles

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2012

Florida Football: Which Gators Pass-Rushers Can Combat Texas A&M's Elite Tackles

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    Florida football is all about tradition, but the Gators haven't lived up to their lofty standard of featuring a dominant pass-rusher for the last few years.

    Dating back to the beginning of the millennium, UF's defense has been fueled by the likes of Alex Brown, Jarvis Moss, Derrick Harvey and Carlos Dunlap. 

    However, it's been quite some time since the Swamp saw a sack artist.

    In Saturday's opener, the defense barely generated any pressure against Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz, which is a troubling sign since the Gators are still to face Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU. 

    There's a ton of potential up front on this year's squad—particularly with a talented group of freshmen—but when the Gators need a sack, who will step up? 

    It's going to be a tough undertaking for the defensive line this week when the team takes on Texas A&M. The Aggies boast a pair of future first-round tackles in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. 

    Let's take a look at UF's top five pass-rushers and how they can attack the Aggies offensive line Saturday. 

Lerentee McCray, BUCK Linebacker

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    When Ronald Powell went down with a torn ACL in Florida's spring game, the biggest question was who could adequately replace the former No. 1 overall recruit. 

    While it certainly hurts to lose a talented athlete like Powell, redshirt senior Lerentee McCray doesn't represent a big drop-off as the starting BUCK linebacker. 

    Checking in at 6'3" and 249 pounds, McCray has the size to be an effective edge rusher and utilizes his excellent athleticism to bend around the edge. 

    Last season, the Ocala native demonstrated his ability to make plays in the backfield, registering 7.5 tackles for loss. 

    Although he failed to register a single sack against Bowling Green, McCray did register four tackles. 

    He may never put up huge numbers, but the Gators need McCray to generate pressure off the edge going forward. 

Sharrif Floyd, Defensive Tackle

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    After playing out of position last season, Sharrif Floyd looked right at home as the team's starting defensive tackle on Saturday. 

    The surprisingly nimble 6'3", 303-pounder played with tremendous power, explosion and technique against Bowling Green, finishing with four tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

    Defensive tackles don't typically put up huge sack numbers, but Floyd possesses an elite physical skill set to generate interior pressure.

    Fellow tackle Omar Hunter doesn't really offer much as a pass-rusher, so it's up to Floyd to make plays in the backfield and take some of the heat off the defensive ends against Joeckel and Matthews. 

Dominique Easley, Defensive End

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    Turn on the tape and you'll see No. 2 exploding off the ball before any of his teammates. 

    When it comes to Dominique Easley, his game is all about snap anticipation and burst. 

    The junior worked his way back from a late-season ACL tear to suit up as the Gators starting defensive end. 

    Despite being less than nine months removed from the injury, the lightning-quick defender managed to record the Gators' only sack against the Falcons. 

    Easley may actually be more productive at defensive end because of his elite quickness, but it will take more than that to beat Texas A&M's monstrous bookends.

Dante Fowler Jr., Defensive End

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    It didn't take long for freshman Dante Fowler Jr. to make an impact. 

    One of Florida's top recruits, he saw significant playing time in the season opener and rewarded his coaches with three tackles, including 0.5 for loss. 

    Fowler boasts an impressive frame for a first-year player. 

    Listed at 6'3" and 277 pounds, it's scary to envision what he'll look like even a year from now. 

    If Saturday was any indication of how much Fowler will play, it looks like the Gators will be counting on the freshman to get after the QB a ton this year. 

    He'll be thrown into the fire, facing NFL-caliber tackles, so it will be interesting to see if the freshman rises up or falters under pressure.

Jonathan Bullard, Defensive End

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    As if seeing Dante Fowler Jr. line up at one end spot wasn't juicy enough, Gators fans got a glimpse of what the future could be like when Jonathan Bullard put his hand in the dirt as the other end. 

    Like Fowler, Bullard already brings excellent size to the table (6'3", 271 pounds) and came to Florida as the No. 6 overall recruit. 

    UF doesn't boast a ton of experienced depth along the defensive line, which should open up the way for Fowler Jr. and Bullard to earn heavy snaps. 

    I wouldn't be surprised if Bullard becomes the first defensive end off the bench, especially as the Gators try to attack Texas A&M's terrific tackle tandem. 

    Rotating in fresh legs should allow the Gators to wear down the Aggies' O-line on Saturday afternoon.