The Florida Gators defense improved in 2012 under head coach Will Muschamp, but they still have some work to do if they hope to get all the way back to the top of the SEC in 2013. Specifically, the Gators would like to become more productive with their pass rush. To get that done, they will need a key member of their defense to make a successful return to the field as linebacker Ronald Powell returns from a knee surgery.
Or two surgeries to be exact. Powell first injured his knee last April when he tore his ACL before tearing it again in September, effectively ending his 2012 season. He is still recovering and won’t be a full participant at any point prior to fall camp, but his progress towards being ready for contact in August could be crucial to the success of Florida’s defense next season.
Before injuring his knee, Powell was enjoying a very strong season as the buck linebacker. During his sophomore season in 2011, he recorded 32 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and six sacks. He was emerging as a major force in the pass rush and would have been one of the leaders on defense last year if he had been on the field.
If he can return to that 2011 level, it will put the Gators’ pass rush over the top and make it one of the best units in the SEC. His healthy return would open up a number of possibilities for defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to mix and match his blitz and pressure packages, giving Florida a number of options to get after the passer in 2013. Having a dynamic edge rusher like Powell at their disposal could make a world of difference for the Florida defense.
But that still remains to be seen just how far he has come back from back-to-back ACL surgeries. It will still be a long road before he feels comfortable on the football field, but if he can give the Gators that extra burst off the edge, their pass rush, and the entire defense, will benefit immensely from it.