In 2012, Jon Bullard came to the University of Florida as the nation’s top defensive end prospect and the sixth-ranked player in the country.
In Saturday’s 24-7 win over Kentucky, the sophomore recorded his first sacks of the season, and coach Will Muschamp called it “the best game Bullard has played at Florida.”
It happened to be Bullard’s most challenging game, too.
After star defensive tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season with a torn ACL last Tuesday, the coaching staff moved Bullard — a 6-3, 270-pound lineman — inside.
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It’s not a permanent move but one that suits Florida’s impenetrable defense best for now.
“I’m not going to say I enjoy it, but it’s what I’ve gotta do,” said Bullard who had 1 1/2 sacks against Kentucky. “At the time being, it’s what we need, so I’ve got to step in and do it the best I can.
“It’s not the easiest things to do, but it’s what I’ve got to do. So I’ve been working on different things, different techniques, learning from [nose tackle] Damien [Jacobs] how to take on different blocks in different situations from end, so I’m adjusting to it. I’ve got to adjust fast, so I’ve just been working at it.”
During Florida’s training camp in August, Bullard practiced some at defensive tackle just for emergency situations.
Then, before the Kentucky game, the worst happened. Easley — perhaps the nation’s top interior linemen — was gone for the year, and the coaching staff looked to Bullard for increased production, except at a new position.
“They told me they wanted me to step up a little more and play a little faster. They were telling me I was doing a good job, but they expected a little more,” he said. “I just wanted to go out and prove that I got it.”
Both Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin are confident the sophomore will have minimal issues transitioning inside. After all, Bullard was highly recruited for a reason.
“He’s a big-bodied guy,” Muschamp said. “He’s got some fast-twitch for an inside player. He can give us a good push inside.”
Said Durkin: “I mean, he likes playing outside better than playing inside. But that’s common for most guys. It is, you get more hands on you when you’re inside. The blocks he sees are a little different, but again, that’s something we’ve been working on with him since Day 1, since before Dominique’s injury, because he was doing some of that. So you know, it is a new thing for him. Last year he was solely at end, but that’s kind of the progression of a player. Now I mean, he’s an older guy. We’re asking him to do more for us, and he’s doing a good job of it.”
While his positional transition is still in its infant stage, Bullard’s toughest adjustment has been facing constant double teams.
“At the end spot, you’ve usually got an outside shoulder free unless you’re lined up in a five with the tight end. But you usually don’t go against two 300-pounders as much as you do on the inside, so it’s just something you’ve got to work on and I’ve got to get better at,” he said.
Muschamp & Co. are counting on it.