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Who steps up with Powell injured?

Ronald Powell’s injury Saturday turned out to be more than just the sprain that Coach Will Muschamp hoped for. Further examination Monday revealed that Powell, a 6-4, 248, pound junior Buck end (hybrid defensive end/linebacker) has torn an ACL and could be out anywhere from four to six months.

The injury happened on what seemed to be a routine play on the sideline at Saturday’s Orange and Blue game. Powell was in on a tackle but didn’t get up. After trainers and medical staff checked him out, he got up on his own power and walked to the locker room. In his post game remarks, Muschamp said the injury appeared to be a sprain but obviously turned out to be worse than that.

“Ronald is in good spirits and is very eager to do whatever is necessary to have a healthy, speedy recovery,” Muschamp told Scott Carter of Gator Zone Monday morning. “He has already started with prehab and once the swelling goes down and he regains his range of motion, he will have the surgery.”

This is a blow to a defense that returns 10 starters from last year’s unit, which finished eighth nationally last season. Powell, who had 32 tackles last year and came on strong at the end of the season to lead the team with six sacks, was expected to be one of the most productive players in the Southeastern Conference coming off the edge in 2012.

This was Powell’s most productive spring. He had constantly drawn rave reviews from both Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn equated Powell’s productivity to increased focus and a superb offseason in the weight room and in conditioning drills.

Midway through spring practice, Quinn remarked, “I think one of the things in the offseason he really has had a bunch of focus where he came in to say ‘I’m going to really work at it’ and to his credit in the offseason it went that way. Here are the things you need to work on and it went that way. I think it’s kind of almost like a continuation of that where his work from the offseason program started right away and went right into spring practice. We’re really encouraged about what we’ve seen. I know the guy is really focused and determined to play as well as he can.”

Powell is the second starter on the defensive line with ACL problems. Tackle Dominique Easley tore his ACL in the FSU game. He’s had surgery and is said to be ahead of the curve on rehab. Coaches are optimistic he will be ready to go in the fall.

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So what does the Florida defensive line look like if Powell is unable to go in the fall?

The first option might be to move redshirt senior Lerentee McCray from strongside linebacker to Buck end. McCray has experience playing both on the line and at linebacker. Before he went down with a shoulder injury that cost him the final three games (two regular season and the Gator Bowl), McCray was becoming a consistent playmaker. At 250 pounds, he has adequate size and strength and he’s good coming off the edge. If the coaches are satisfied with the play at strong side in the spring from Darrin Kitchens and Graham Stewart, moving McCray might make the most sense.

Redshirt sophomore Gideon Ajagbe, who had an outstanding spring, will also get the a good look at Buck. Ajagbe has grown to nearly 230 pounds after coming to UF at barely 200. He came to Florida as a linebacker who was a strong pass rusher. Considered a freakish athlete with outstanding speed, he probably has the best understanding of how the Buck position is required to play in space or on the line as either a stand-up end or with his hand on the ground. The main concern with Ajagbe will be weight but he’s got a summer in the weight room to perhaps add another 10-15 pounds.

Beyond Ajagbe, there is redshirt junior Kedric Johnson, a 232-pounder who missed spring practice with an injury. Johnson hasn’t seen the field much except on special teams where he can use his speed. He came to Florida at 195 and has added weight slowly. He’s had some issues playing in space as a linebacker but has shown the ability to come off the edge as a pass rusher if he can get by the tackle. He’s had problems with quick tackles with long arms.

Next on the list would be freshmen Dante Fowler (6-3, 258) a five star recruit who is a powerful pass rusher and Jonathan Bullard (6-4, 245), who is considered versatile enough to play either strongside or weakside end. Both Fowler and Bullard have the size and strength but their lack of experience could be a problem.

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The defensive line depth chart should look like this if Powell is unable to go in the fall:

BUCK: Lerentee McCray, Gideon Ajagbe, Kedric Johnson, Dante Fowler, Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister

THREE TECHNIQUE TACKLE: Dominique Easley, Leon Orr, Jafar Mann

NOSE TACKLE: Omar Hunter, Leon Orr, Nick Alajajian

STRONG SIDE END: Shariff Floyd, Earl Okine, Tevin Westbrook, Bryan Cox Jr.

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