Florida loses defensive tackle Easley to season-ending injury to right knee
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Three days after losing its starting quarterback, No. 20 Florida lost its best defensive player.
The Gators will be without disruptive defensive tackle Dominique Easley for the remainder of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial meniscus in his right knee during practice on a soggy field Tuesday.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp confirmed the news Wednesday, but after first saying Easley ''tweaked'' his knee and added ''we think he'll be fine.''
Easley, though, made it clear on his Twitter page that he was done for the year.
''Gatornation thank you for all of 4 yrs of sticking with me but god has something else planned for and have no worries (hash)believe,'' Easley wrote.
Losing Easley, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior from Staten Island, N.Y., is a significant setback for a defense that leads the Southeastern Conference in just about every major category, including scoring, rushing and passing.
Despite facing constant double teams, Easley had four quarterback hurries and two tackles for loss this season.
''I talked to Dominique and the team this afternoon, and we will continue to look for his leadership and experience throughout the season,'' Muschamp said in a statement. ''Watching any of your players go through this is one of the hardest things about being a coach. Obviously, it is hardest on Dominique. We are disappointed for him, but we will be there for him every step of the way through his surgery and rehab process.''
Easley is the fifth Florida player to be ruled out for 2013.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel broke a bone in his lower right leg Saturday against Tennessee and had season-ending surgery Wednesday. He had a plate and screws inserted for the fibula fracture. Doctors also repaired his medial ligaments and put two screws across his ankle joint.
Right tackle Chaz Green has season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum suffered last month. Receiver Andre Debose tore the ACL in his left knee during fall practice. And freshman linebacker Matt Rolin is out for the season with torn knee ligaments.
Driskel was the one player the offense couldn't afford to lose, although backup Tyler Murphy played well off the bench against the Volunteers.
And Easley is the one player the defense can't afford to be without.
''Dominique is a guy that has a great motor, great enthusiasm as you can see on the field,'' defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. ''I think that's a contagious thing. I think he's been very disruptive to many teams in the backfield. He plays the game the way we want guys to play on defense. With all that being said, he's a part of a whole team of guys that I think are playing well and doing things.''
Without him, the Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) will go with junior Leon Orr and senior Damien Jacobs at defensive tackle in Saturday night's game at Kentucky. It also should mean more playing time for backups Darius Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick.
But most everyone agrees that Easley is irreplaceable.
''It's definitely going to hurt,'' former teammate and current Jacksonville Jaguars safety Josh Evans said. ''He's a veteran guy and the most spirited player on the team. He brings that passion and that energy, and not having him out there will create a big problem. It's a man-down, man-up situation, but that's the one man you just can't replace.''
Easley tore the ACL in his left knee in November 2011, but worked his way back to become a disruptive defender last season. He considered leaving school after his junior season, but ultimately decided to come back in hopes of improving his draft stock and maybe helping Florida get to the SEC championship game.
Easley has 72 tackles, including 18 for loss, and 5 1/2 sacks. He could seek a medical redshirt, but he's more likely to turn pro and enter the 2014 NFL draft.
''He's the best defensive lineman that we have,'' guard Jon Halapio said. ''If we lose Easley, we still have some depth on the defensive line, good people, too. Obviously, it won't be as good as Easley, but to watch any defensive player, anyone on your team go down, it really hurts.''