Aug 31, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Dominique Easley (2) works out prior to the game against the Toledo Rockets at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Another Gator is out for the year, and this time it is defensive tackle Dominique Easley. After tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee during Tuesday’s practice, he will miss the rest of the season.
“Watching one of your players go through this is one of the hardest things about being a coach,” Florida’s Will Muschamp said in a statement Wednesday. “Obviously, it is hardest on Dominique. We are disappointed for him.”
Easley hurt his knee in a non-contact situation, and Muschamp initially was optimistic that it would be a minor injury. Instead, Easley joined five teammates who have suffered season-ending injuries.
Easley, a senior, might already have played his final game for No. 20 Florida, which visits Kentucky on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPNU). He can come back as a redshirt senior next season or turn pro.
The injury occurred early enough in the season that he is eligible for a medical redshirt. Players qualify if they did not play in more than four games, did not play past the sixth game and can prove a legitimate injury. That would allow him to return for 2014.
In Easley’s case, that might be irrelevant. He considered leaving UF to enter the NFL draft last year and can do so this spring. He is 6-foot-2, 285 pounds and was slotted at No. 15 overall in a recent Sports Illustrated draft projection.
He seems to be leaning toward leaving after tweeting, “Gatornation thank you for all of 4 yrs of sticking with me but god has something else planned for and have no worries #believe.”
It is a huge blow to the Gators’ defense, which ranks second in the country in yards allowed. Easley had 26 starts and looked like he was finally back to full strength from a 2011 knee injury.
In the final regular-season game that year, Easley tore the ACL in his left knee and spent the ensuing off-season rehabbing it instead of practicing. He returned for the 2012 season opener at defensive end, but said he never felt fully healthy.
He moved back to defensive tackle this year and had five tackles, including two for a loss, and four quarterback hurries in three games.
“We all know Dominique is a great football player,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He’s been very involved in everything we’ve done — run defense, pass defense, just our overall effort and how we play. I think he’s a big part of that.
“Dominique has a great motor, great enthusiasm as you can see on the field. He’s been very disruptive to many teams in the backfield. He plays the game the way we want guys to play on defense.”
Last year, Easley was third on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and had a fumble recovery against Florida State.
He came to Florida from Curtis High School in Staten Island, N.Y., and was ranked the No. 7 overall player in the country as a senior. He signed with the Gators as part of coach Urban Meyer’s outstanding 2010 recruiting class, which included current pros Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd.
The Gators’ group of possible replacements for Easley is unproven, and fellow starting tackle Leon Orr recently has been limited by a shoulder injury. The next two players on the depth chart are junior Darious Cummings, who transferred this year from East Mississippi Community College, and senior Damien Jacobs. Neither has started a Division I game.
The next option is true freshman Jay-nard Bostwick, from Centennial High School in Port St. Lucie. The Gators have been working Bostwick as a back-up in practices, but are considering red-shirting him. He has not appeared in a game.
Easley is the third UF player to tear his ACL this year, following linebacker Matt Rolin and wide receiver Andre Debose. The Gators also lost quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken leg, offensive tackle Chaz Green to a torn labrum and cornerback Nick Washington to a shoulder injury.
A week after a pair of unimpressive losses, Georgia Tech regained a bit of its footing. The Yellow Jackets delivered an emphatic 87-57 thrashing of East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion to head into their final exam week on an up note.