GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Dominique Easley will be one of Florida's most important defensive players next season.
And he'll be helping his professional stock at the same time.
Easley, who decided to return for his senior season rather than join three other defensive teammates in declaring for the NFL draft, is a starter at defensive end but played tackle his first two seasons and may end up there again in 2013 because the Gators have no quality experience at the position.
UF coach Will Muschamp said Easley will likely play end when the Gators play teams that use two backs on the field at the same time -- like LSU -- but could slide inside to tackle when the Gators are in their nickel or other sub defenses.
Muschamp is expecting Easley to have a career year based on the way he finished the 2012 season.
"Dominique Easley is a guy who probably played his best game in the Sugar Bowl," Muschamp said. "He played really well. I'm excited [about 2013]."
Easley had 3.5 tackles for loss among his five tackles in the Gators' 33-23 loss to Louisville. He had 5.5 of his 8.5 tackles for loss and 15 of his 26 total tackles in the final five games. Last season was Easley's first at defensive end. He played tackle his first two seasons because of a lack of depth at the position.
The coaching staff flip-flopped him and Sharrif Floyd last season, which put Floyd and Easley at their more natural positions. Floyd responded with a career year (46 tackles, team-high 13 tackles for loss, three sacks) and declared early for the NFL draft. He is regarded as a mid-first round selection.
In addition to Floyd, the Gators also lost starting nose tackle Omar Hunter to graduation. That leaves UF with very few experienced players at tackle. Redshirt junior Leon Orr and senior Damien Jacobs are the only two tackles on the roster with game experience.
Muschamp said the Gators have also moved redshirt freshman end Quinteze Williams inside as well.
But the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Easley still might be the best option at tackle, and he could end up playing more at that spot than anticipated because the Gators have much more depth at end and could compensate for his loss at that position.
"Darious Cummings is a guy certainly that's going to have an opportunity there," Muschamp said. "Leon Orr needs to continue to step forward. Damien Jacobs is certainly a guy in there who can do some things, so excited about that combination. Quinteze Williams is a guy that we really played inside as the season wore on when we went to our opportunity period for younger players [and] will get some opportunities in there.
"All of those guys and some younger players, I feel very comfortable with where we are there."