The 2009 Florida Gators defensive line depth chart is one of the most impressive in the nation. The roster is splitting at the seams with talent and experience.
Linemen as far down as third string have had starting experience in their careers and the fresh faces taking over are bursting with ability.
It is an embarrassment of riches for the UF faithful, and one opposing offenses would rather be distributed to the rest of the NCAA.
With so much depth and such a frequent rotation of players, the line between starter and backup is thinner than a single Olsen twin.
Since so many guys will get meaningful playing time, it is best to preview the D-line like a buffet dinner, so that no one is left out. However, this is not a Golden Corral buffet, but a royal banquet.
Wine - Jermaine Cunningham, DE (Sr), Lawrence Marsh, DT (R-Jr)
A great dinner starts with a fine beverage, and a strong, aged wine is capable of bringing the entire meal together.
Members of the historic 2006 recruiting class that featured Tebow, Spikes, and Harvin, these two defenders took some time to reach their potential.
Cunningham has grown from a scrawny 6’4” 196-pound pass rusher to a sturdy 252-pound SEC defensive end in his four years in Gainesville, while Marsh has battled injuries and fought like a dog for every minute of playing time.
Whether it be in the form of statistical achievements on the field, or discussions and advice in the film room, their experience and leadership will lay the foundation for a supremely talented front four.
Roast – Carlos Dunlap, DE (Jr)
This is the heart of the banquet, the pièce de résistance. Dunlap is without question the most promising player on the defensive line, perhaps on the entire team. Despite only starting two games in 2008, he lead the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
Dunlap combines a massive frame (6’7” 290 lbs.) with such speed that in high school he returned kicks, and after watching the video of this behemoth taking it to the house, it is clear why the defensive line centers around Dunlap’s play.
After sizzling in the rotisserie of spring and fall practice, coaches are excited by his new work ethic and commitment to getting better.
He has stated his goal is to break the Florida single season sack record of 13 held by Alex Brown, and if he does, he’ll never have to pay for a meal again in Gainesville.
Mashed Potatoes – Terron Sanders DT (R-Jr), Justin Trattou DT/DE (Jr)
Ah, potatoes, the bulk that rounds out a meal and provides much needed filler. Without a good starch, a fine meal will seem lacking and incomplete.
Likely not to overwhelm the rest the entrée, Trattou and Sanders provide quality production and back up the bigger stars on the defense.
They are the lesser known contributors that take on blocks and free up blitzing linebackers, while also strengthening the overall infrastructure of the D-line.
Trattou is nearly invaluable to the Florida scheme, as he is thick enough to play Tackle or quick enough to provide help at End, depending on what the situation is.
Sanders is quietly one of the most consistent members of the line, and had perhaps his best game against LSU in 2008, grading out a “champion.”
Gravy, Herbs & Cranberry Sauce – William Green DE (Soph), Jaye Howard DT (R-Soph), Omar Hunter DT (R-Fr), Earl Okine DE (R-Fr)
While the workload of this group may be light, Green, Howard, Hunter, and Okine will surely spice up the defense. Used sparingly, unless you are at a church picnic in rural Alachua, gravy gives smooth flavor to any dish.
Herbs also perk up a meal, providing a spark of zest in small doses. Finally, cranberry sauce makes any feast complete by adding a dash of tang here and there.
The D-line would not be nearly as effective without the intermittent flashes of brilliance provided by the players in this group. While the production has not been proven, as all four of the players named here did not play much a year ago, it was evident in spring practice that these developing players would have a special role in 2009.
Howard, recruited as an End, took two years to put on enough weight (about 56 pounds) to move inside and provide a slick burst in the middle of the line.
Green has one of the quickest first steps on the line, however due to a lack of bulk he was relegated mostly to special teams where he excelled blocking a punt against Kentucky a year ago.
Okine, a local product who continues to grow into his 6’7” frame, has tremendous upside and will be a quality backup this year.
Finally, Hunter was one of the bigger disappointments of last year’s incoming class. Head coach Urban Meyer raved about Hunter all recruiting season and led fans to believe he would come in an dominate from day one, however he ended up not playing much due to multiple injuries.
Although his official team picture portrays a Carl Winslow persona, make no mistake about it that Hunter will beef up the line in 2009, and may even start later in the season.
Bread – Brandon Antwine DT (R-Jr), Duke Lemmens DE (Jr)
Antwine and Lemmens will add a solid helping of depth to the defense this year. Like a warm loaf of crusty bread, these players will quietly bolster the rest of the defense.
Neither player will take over a game nor astound with flashy play, but guys who will supply good minutes and play hard are of utmost importance when trudging through an SEC schedule.
Lemmens is a thick end or a slippery tackle and can give other players a break by filling holes in many spots. Like a light slice of foccacia, he will also impress every once in a while, forcing a fumble while recording a sack last year against LSU.
Antwine has overcome a devastating injury in his career and is thankful to still be putting on pads every Saturday. He has a great motor and leaves his heart on the field every time he gets a chance.
Peas & Carrots – Edwin Hebert DT (Jr), Tory Epps DT (Sr)
The red-headed stepchild of any recruiting class, the juco transfer, must come in and contribute right away or they are viewed a bust.
Often, with only two years of eligibility, there is a short window for contribution for any transfer, much like there is a small tolerance for steamed carrots and their counterpart, peas.
A meal is not complete without veggies, however no one really wants to have a large portion, and frankly, they just take up space on the plate.
Hebert and Epps are almost the same player, juco Tackles that have underachieved in their short time at UF.
Epps only played in five games a year ago and did not make much of an impact, while Hebert has looked lost and overmatched so far in spring and fall practices.
Alas, peas and carrots, are necessary and can provide essential nutrients vital for life. Hopefully Hebert and Epps can give sturdy minutes and keep the rest of the defense fresh late in the game.
Dessert – Gary Brown DT (Fr), Kedric Johnson DE (Fr)
Much like chocolate cake and coffee, these freshmen arrived late to the party, only recently checking in for Fall practice.
Although the defense will not live and die by contributions from these players, any additional aid will just be icing on the cake.
Brown has the size and ability to perform at the highest level, however due to such depth at Tackle, he may take a year to learn the system.
Any playing time for Johnson seems unlikely, since he arrived on campus at a lithe 215 pounds and will have to thicken up his body to be able to compete for the Gators.