Forget the SI cover jinx. Florida has the defensive tackle jinx.
Freshman Gary Brown’s recent brush with the law might have put his Florida career in limbo. While it’s still too early to tell what really happened and what will happen, Urban Meyer has made it very clear how he feels about disrespecting women.
But Brown isn’t the only young defensive tackle to fall on hard times at Florida.
Meyer didn’t recruit the greatest defensive tackle combos with his first two classes at Florida, but he brought in some solid athletes. His 2005 class had no defensive linemen, and 2006 brought the Gator Nation Brandon Antwine, Terron Sanders, Corey Hobbs and Lawrence Marsh (who was actually a defensive end and offensive lineman in high school).
Legal issues had no impact on these guys, but injuries and competition did.
Antwine was a high-motor guy whenever he got into a game, but a career-threatening back injury took most of his 2007 season and a knee injury cut short 2008. Antwine then had to deal with a shoulder injury for most of the 2009 season. He has just 17 total tackles in his career and no sacks.
Hobbs was a highly regarded defensive tackle in high school who also played offensive line, but he spent most of his career at Florida as a backup on the offensive line. He won’t be returning for his senior season this fall.
Sanders redshirted his freshman year and was a backup in his second season. He then started 12 games in 2008, recording 21 tackles and a fumble recovery. You know, the one where he pulled a sweet spin move on a Georgia player. He shared time with Jaye Howard last year and tore his ACL just before the Sugar Bowl, which could have an impact in his ability to play this fall.
Marsh became a starter in 2008 and racked up 28 tackles and three sacks. An ankle injury limited him in 2009, but he should be full speed this spring.
Nothing earth-shattering from any of those guys, but they provided some solid play (when healthy) up front.
But those guys weren’t supposed to get the playing time they did because of the next two guys on the list.
In 2007, Meyer signed two of the top defensive tackles in the country in Torrey Davis and John Brown.
However, this is where the problems at the interior really showed. The enormous talent Florida brought in just never worked out for the Gators.
When I wrote a summer story on Davis, he told me how he clowned his way through high school and how Meyer changed that about him. He said Meyer made him a man.
Davis hardly acted like a man in Gainesville. Off-the-field issues plagued his career and there was some thought that while he was physically intimidating on the field, he never really gave it his all in practice, which made it harder for him to see significant playing time. When he got in, he was a beast. He was best known for his consecutive goal-line stops against Oklahoma running back Chris Brown in the 2008 national title. His immaturity caught up with him, however, and Davis later left Florida for good last March.
John Brown was supposed to be a bull in the middle, but no one would ever know because he never played a down at Florida. Eligibility issues and injuries kept him on the scout team for two years and Brown transferred last spring. He’s now at Tennessee.
Those two really hurt Florida because they were supposed to “the guys” up front for the Gators for years to come.
In 2008, Meyer gave Omar Hunter a Tim-Tebow-like introduction to Florida when he signed. However, a back injury and being out of shape caused him to redshirt his freshman year. Hunter made up for it last year, starting in 11 games and recording 14 tackles. He’s still got to produce much more to come close to matching the hype.
Troy Epps came in as a junior college transfer but tore his ACL in his first year and saw limited time as a senior.
Byran Jones wasn’t a household name to begin with and transferred before last season.
Gary Brown was a part of the 2009 class, and it’s yet to be seen what will happen to him. He was one of the top defensive tackles in the country, but reported to Florida out of shape. He dressed for a few games, but didn’t play. Will he ever?
Joining him was JUCO transfer Edwin Herbert, who defensive line coach Dan McCarney said during the season wasn’t physically ready to play in the SEC.
Florida is hoping that the 2010 bunch is much better than its predecessors. Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Leon Orr are physically menacing on the field and were highly-touted DTs.
Each could be a star at Florida, but can they break the DT curse? I say yes.
Floyd has a good head on his shoulders and is just too talented not to make some sort of impact. Easley can play inside or out but will probably make his home inside, where his speed will only add to his game. Orr is just a freak on the field. He’s got some decent speed and is huge. He’s on campus now and if his leg has healed, he’ll have a great shot to get ahead this spring.
If there was ever a group to stop the bleeding at defensive tackle, it’s this one. But after seeing “Wolfman” Monday night, I realize that curses can be hard to break.