Dominique Easley was the one player Florida could not afford to play without.
And when the defensive tackle tore his ACL and medial meniscus during a non-contact drill on Sept. 24, Florida's defense lost its most disruptive player.
Now, Easley faces a tough road ahead with rehab in preparation for the NFL draft in April, and Florida, in the midst of conference play, is dogged with replacing, essentially, an irreplaceable player.
#Gators DT Dominique Easley was 3rd on team in QB pressures (despite facing double-teams). Had 5 hurries, 3 hits/knockdowns by my count.— Thomas Goldkamp (@Goldkamp247) September 25, 2013
With just four tackles on the roster, Florida's interior line lacks depth and has been muddied by injuries.
Fellow tackle Leon Orr has been hampered by a shoulder injury, and Darius Cummings, a JUCO transfer, and senior Damien Jacobs have yet to start a Division I game.
It's a huge blow for the Gators, who rank second in total defense and first against the run, according to NCAA.com.
Florida had little issues filling the void left behind by the Staten Island, N.Y., native, versus a clearly inferior Kentucky Wildcats program on Sept. 28.
But come time to travel to Baton Rouge, La., to face LSU, and Jacksonville, Fla., to take on Georgia, Florida, without its most versatile, stout lineman, will suffer.
As a Gator, Easley has played all along the line of scrimmage and has impressed with front versatility, playing at multiple interior positions including 0-technique, 1-technique and 3-technique. Easley also spent time at defensive end despite his lack of plus arm length.
For the better part of 2013, Easley penetrated upfield, often with a combination of stunts and twists. And his ability to draw double-teams freed up gaps for linebackers such as Mike Taylor and Antonio Morrison to shoot through.
Not coincidentally, many of his teammates' tackles for loss and sack totals can be directly attributed to Easley's ability to command more than one blocker.
As important as that may be, let's examine what Florida will miss from Easley in one-on-one battles.
In the image above, Easley is lined up in the 0-technique, or directly over the center. Here, Easley is at his best when lined up inside. He can flash his high motor and quickness to defeat blockers off the snap and wreak havoc in the opposing team's backfield.
At the snap, Easley takes a hard step to his right and shoots the A-gap.
The right guard takes a lateral step to his left to gain leverage on Easley while keeping his hands engaged. But his combination of power and speed at the point of attack is overwhelming.
Easley manages to get his hands under the guard's pads to force him backwards on skates.
With great body control, he utilizes an effective inside spin move that presses the pocket and forces a hurried throw from Tennessee's quarterback.
This forces the quarterback to throw from a different base, and the result is a Florida interception.
In this play, Easley shows off his unique ability to transfer power to speed. In 2013, Easley registered four quarterback hurries. But his stat line doesn't tell all.
Watched Fla's Defense again this AM & wow is Dominique Easley a beast. Explosive first step & a better fit inside than at DE.— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) September 6, 2013
Florida's front seven has combined for 18.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, and Easley is as responsible for the unit's production as any player.
In this next image, we'll examine just how quick Easley's get-off is and how he consistently wins with great snap anticipation and quickness.
Florida is lined up in its 4-3 defense with Easley shaded just over the inside shoulder of the left guard in the 2-technique position.
At the snap, Easley displays an elite first step and blows by the left guard with a clean under move and blows up a Miami run play to the strong side.
But tackling an elusive running back such as Duke Johnson can be quite the challenge. Easley, however, answers the call.
He anticipates Johnson's cutback and displays great balance to redirect, then wraps him up for a loss of three yards.
Plays like these are why Easley is so irreplaceable. He has an uncanny ability to blow past both centers and guards to disrupt an opposing offense's run game. And he finishes.
In the End
With Easley gone, Florida is left with untested linemen who are unable to create such opportunities alone.
And it's no secret the 6'2", 285-pound defensive tackle is the one player Florida couldn't afford to lose to injury.
“It’s definitely going to hurt,” former teammate Josh Evans said in an interview with Florida Times-Union's Mark Long:
"He’s a veteran guy and the most spirited player on the team. He brings that passion and that energy, and not having him out there will create a big problem. It’s a man-down, man-up situation, but that’s the one man you just can’t replace.”