The Florida Gators, in Will Muschamp’s first full recruiting season, signed a couple of studs. Bullard and Fowler, Jonathan and Dante, Jonte Fowlard. Call them what you want, these two bookend defensive lineman are the stars of this freshman class.
Jonathan Bullard is a 6’4″ 270 lb. defensive end from Shelby, NC Crest High School. He was considered a 5 star recruit by Scout.com coming out high school and was a U.S. Army All-American.
Dante Fowler is 6’3″ 277 pounder from St. Petersburg, FL Lakewood High School. He was considered a 4 star recruit by Scout.com and was named an Under Armour All- American. Two guys from different states who took two slightly different paths to Gainesville.
Bullard had kind of a standard recruitment, taking his visits, narrowing his choice to three schools and then waiting to announce his decision at the Army All-American bowl. Ultimately, he chose to play with his close friends Raheem Ledbetter and D.J. Humphries a decision many felt he would make well in advance of the announcement.
Fowler’s recruitment was slightly more jagged and controversial. A Florida State commit for much of the recruiting process he was rumored to be a silent to the Gators for months prior to signing day. His name was bandied about team message boards for months as Gator fans claim him to be “theirs” and FSU recruiting analysts doggedly declaring Fowler was “1000 percent” committed to the Noles.
But when signing day 2012 arrived, Fowler “shocked the world” with his announcement and subsequent signing with the Gators.
They may have taken slightly different paths to Gainesville but since they arrived on campus these two will forever be tied together. Bullard and Fowler, Jonte Fowlard. Bookends. By the time they leave Gainesville I fully expect them to be mentioned in the same breath as the original “bookend” college football defenders John Copeland and Eric Curry the two Alabama ends instrumental in leading Bama to a national championship in 1992.
Bullard is more of a true defensive end in Muschamp’s defense who’s duties start with rush and edge containment, while Fowler plays more of the Buck position which is a hybrid end/outside linebacker but who is more focused on the rushing the passer. Like Jarvis Jones of Georgia the Buck is the position they try to free up with scheme to get pressure on the quarterback.
While both have played considerable minutes this season, rare for a true freshman defensive lineman in this league, they have really come on of late and both combined for a great game this past Saturday against Missouri.
Repeatedly they were getting pressure on the quarterback and stepping up in run support. Muschamp credited the play of the front four and the adjustment made at halftime as the key to shutting the Tigers down in the second half Saturday.
“The key in the game for us was being able to rush four guys,” Muschamp was quoted as saying. “When we pressured in the first half (on blitzes) we got displaced a lot and he was able to create some scramble plays. When we were able to rush four guys and keep our eyes on the ball in zone and make him complete passes, we were more successful defensively.”
Two of those front four were Bullard and Fowler and their play was key.
“Both are going to be really good football players,” according to Muschamp. “I think they’re growing up. They understand the mental intensity you have to have week in and week out in this league, which is hard for a freshman.”
Dan Quinn mentioned the difference between now and earlier in the season is they’re starting to get the mental part down.
“Number one coming in we thought they had the physical ability to do it, now how fast can they get connected to learn the system and play within the system and be productive. I think over the last three or four weeks I’ve really saw Fowler improve.”
Quinn added, “each week maybe you see something a little extra and I thought that maybe that was the case this week with Bullard where he made some plays I thought that really helped us. I’m hoping to see those guys continue, I think they got a really good future.”
So as the season continues these two are getting more adjusted to the scheme and the speed of the game and as such are able to play faster allowing them to use their unique natural abilities to be productive for the Gators.
Considering that the outside pass rush has been the weak link for the Gators defense the last few years, it’s important for these two to step up and make plays. If this trend continues, it may be difficult for teams to maintain any level of offensive consistency against them.
If they can continue to pressure the quarterback as they did against Missouri, you can expect the defensive backs to continue their recent trend of getting multiple turnovers and they will be instrumental in shutting opponents down.
Get ready to hear these two names a lot. Together. In the same sentence. Bullard and Fowler, Bookends.