GAINESVILLE, Fla. - For Omar Hunter, Earl Okine and some other players on Florida's defensive line, position coach Dan McCarney delivered a stark and unambiguous message after Saturday's spring practice.
"There are no free lunches around here," McCarney said. "They've been on scholarship, and really it's time to start helping us win on game day."
Hunter, a five-star recruit from Buford, Ga., stood out late in Saturday's scrimmage when he batted down a pass thrown by quarterback John Brantley, an early sign that Hunter has the potential to be a force on the defensive line. At 6 feet and 308 pounds, Hunter is built like a bull and needs to start playing like it.
"We've had a lot of time to talk," McCarney said of Hunter. "It's time. You have talent, you're a strong guy, you're tough, you've got pride, but you stood around and watched and it's time to go play now.
"Hopefully, [Brandon] Antwine and [Troy] Epps will come back and be 100 percent. What if they don't? You're going to have to play out there the first Saturday in September. You're going to have to help us win. You have to get ready for that."
Okine is 6-7 and 274 pounds, and McCarney said his future is inside because "he's about three weeks away from 290."
Okine made a couple of nice tackles during the scrimmage as the defensive line and dominated at times. McCarney said his group was a little rusty but should improve as the spring continues.
"Putting shoulder pads and knee braces on for the first time is like carrying a U-Haul behind you the first day and they'll get a little better each day," McCarney said.
With so many linemen sidelined or gone from the program, younger players will have chances this spring to boost their stock. Hunter and Okine are two of those players. So is Jaye Howard, who has beefed up to about 300 pounds. Howard had a solid first week making plays and being active.
"Getting better," McCarney said of Howard. "He got some playing time last year. He did a little bit for our program. Now it's time to step up and do a lot for our program.
"With [Terron] Sanders out, he has a calf muscle [injury], he hasn't practiced yet, all it's done is given him and Okine a great opportunity, so he and Okine are getting a lot of work. And it's great for them, both of them, because they need every snap they can get."
There are a lot of defensive linemen who are either recovering from injuries or who have been booted from the team - Torrey Davis and John Brown - but that only means more opportunities for young, talented players who can prove themselves in the spring. One of the big losses is defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who has not dressed yet because of an abdominal strain.
Justin Trattou made a few nice plays during the scrimmage, using his speed and power to attack the quarterbacks, and William Green, much bigger than last season, has been impressive as well. Jermaine Cunningham could be one of the conference's best defensive ends, and Duke Lemmens should see more action.
Don't expect much time to be wasted by McCarney with his group. Spring is a time for players to emerge and with many defensive linemen limited, it's time for younger players, like Hunter, Okine and Howard, to start getting noticed. McCarney's message on Saturday was pointed and simple.
"You step on the field for us and you're going to play with passion and energy and physicalness and a high level of enthusiasm," he said. "If you don't, you won't play."