Even though the Florida Gators finished 2010 with a very respectable 8-5 record, fans were understandably disappointed by the drop-off following back-to-back 13 wins seasons, which included a national championship in 2008. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was a starter during both of those seasons and provides his take on what happened to Florida last year, what we can expect from Florida this year and some tricks to watching the game. He has also made some bold predictions for himself in his second year in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.
How do you think the departure of Urban Meyer as head coach will affect the team?
I can’t tell you from experience, but at the end of the day you still gotta go play football. I know the guys are excited about their new coach—coach Muschamp—he’s a great coach. I met him personally. I’m looking forward to watching those guys play and getting it turned around next year.
Why did the defense struggle so much last year? We lost a lot of our senior leadership. A lot of the guys that were drafted were juniors—so they were supposed to be the senior leadership, like me, [Maurkice] Pouncey, Joe Haden. All of us would have been seniors last year. I don’t want to say it was the determining factor, but when you lose a lot of your starters or a lot of your key playmakers, the young guys have to be ready to step up and they have to be ready to fill those shoes.
How well do you expect Florida’s defensive line [where Dunlap played] to perform considering that they declined significantly last year due to the loss of talent and this year, once again, they lose several starters? The whole young line is going to emerge this year as a force. They look pretty promising to me. They have a lot of young talent. I think they have a strong rotation going. And depth—they have a 3 to 4 man rotation almost at every position. [**note that depth is an important factor in keeping players fresh, finding the right talent and dealing with injuries].
Scouts have described you as having the rare gifts of speed, size and strength. But what do you think is the most important of those three factors? [The answer: none of the above]. In my position, I believe the combination is the most important factor. Unless you excel in one of them more than the others, I think the balance is good. You’ve got your speed rushers like Dwight Freeney [NFL-Indianapolis Colts], you’ve got your power rushers, and you’ve got your balanced rushers like Julius Peppers [NFL-Chicago Bears]. I like the balance. I want to be able to stop the run as well as the pass and staying balanced allows you to do that more.
What is the biggest difference between college and the NFL? Speed of the game and the playbook. My biggest adjustment to the game was learning the playbook, learning why we do the things we do and understanding the defense.
You have obviously heard the discussion about quarterback John Brantley, especially the criticism that he doesn’t throw the ball downfield well [This usually refers to passes thrown for more than 20 yards. This is something that can become a factor when time is running out or when it is a third and long situation, such that there is a significant amount of yardage to gain on a single play or else be forced to punt]. What is your opinion of Brantley? I like Brantley. Brantley came in with me in my class and he looks like a promising pocket passer. But last year he was in a bad situation. They were rotating quarterbacks a lot and it’s hard for you to come in after not being in on downs one and two and then come in on third down and be expected to get a first down on third and long. No great quarterback could do that overnight—not even Peyton Manning could sit out the first two downs and then come in and throw a touchdown on third and long. You’ve got to get in that rhythm and when you’re not in that rhythm it makes it even harder.
What do you miss the most about being a Gator? The fan support and playing in the Swamp.
When you’re watching a game or film, what’s the first thing you look at? If I’m watching film, I’m watching the man I’m going against because I have to beat the tackle before I can do anything else.
What are you looking for? I read the tackle. If he shows me run, then I have to play the run and keep the ball inside of me. I cannot allow the running back to get outside of me or to come in my gap. If it’s pass, then I have to beat the tackle around the edge and get to the quarterback before he throws the ball downfield.
The tackle isn’t voluntarily showing you what he’s doing, so how do you know if he’s “showing” run or pass? I can’t reveal my secrets (laughing). But if he’s coming at you or gaining ground towards you or if he’s meeting you as you come off the ball, then you know it’s run. Because if it’s pass he’s going to get depth—he’s going to back away from you so he can play you better.
Now that we know what to look for, what can we expect from you in your second season in the NFL? Building on what I finished with last year. I started off pretty late and I want to continue to build from there. I was fortunate enough to finish with 9.5 and this year I want to plan on going after 13…
(For those of you who are in my fantasy football league, please stop reading now as some insider information follows and I don’t want you knowing my draft strategy.)
…“13” refers to the number of sacks Dunlap expects to have in 2011. And why that number? Last year the sack leader in the NFL at defensive end had 13 sacks. (And the overall leader, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, had 15.5 sacks).
You’ve convinced me to draft you in my fantasy football league this fall, so now where should I draft you compared to other defensive players? Number one. Ain’t nothing worth any other position than being number one. I want to be number one.”
And without hesitation, he added… “My next goal is to lead the league.”
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