GAINESVILLE -- Florida continues to be snakebitten by injuries, and the latest might be the most devastating of all.
Just four days removed from losing starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley went down with a season-ending knee injury in Tuesday’s practice.
The senior tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee.
Earlier Wednesday, coach Will Muschamp said: “Easley just tweaked it a little bit. We think it will be fine, but we’ll see how it goes.”
However, further tests revealed a significant injury.
“I talked to Dominique and the team this afternoon,” Muschamp said later. “We will continue to look for his leadership and experience throughout the season. Watching any of your players go through this is one of the hardest things about being a coach. … We are disappointed for him, but we will be there for him every step of the way.”
Easley, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, was injured in a noncontact drill while chasing a screen pass.
The senior defensive tackle tweeted: “Gatornation thank you for all 4 yrs of sticking with me but god has something else planned for & have no worries #believe.”
This isn’t the first knee injury that Easley has sustained. In 2011 — then a sophomore — he tore the ACL in his left knee in Florida’s 21-7 loss to Florida State. He missed UF’s bowl game and labored through much of 2012 playing out of position (end) as he fully recovered from the injury.
But the light switch turned on early in 2013 as Easley — a preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection at tackle — spearheaded UF’s suffocating defense.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called the Gators defense “the best in the nation” as it leads the country in rush defense (55.3 yards per game). Easley — with his consistent penetration, swagger and energy — had anchored the SEC’s No. 1 unit in scoring, total, pass and run defense.
“He’s just explosive. He’s fast, physical,” right guard Jon Halapio said. “He’s the best defensive lineman we have.”
Easley’s injury is just the latest adversity for Florida. The 20th-ranked Gators already have more season-ending injuries (five) than games played (three). In addition to Easley and Driskel, starters Chaz Green (labrum) and Andre Debose (knee) were lost for the season. Freshman linebacker Matt Rolin also is out for the season with torn knee ligaments.
Before Easley’s season-ending injury was officially announced, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said: “It’s nothing you want to happen to anyone or at any position, but we plan for that everywhere. That’s why we play a lot of guys.
“Dominique is a guy that has a great motor, great enthusiasm as you can see on the field. 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. So that’s the way we want to play on defense, and I think he epitomizes that. But I think there’s other guys that do as well.”