Coaching staff trusts McCalister

The Florida coaching staff went into fall camp preparing to get Neiron Ball reps at the BUCK position just in case something happened to Dante Fowler. Days into camp, that plan was cancelled. Alex McCalister proved to the coaches that he was ready to handle that responsibility.

The growth started shortly after the 2013 season ended. The Florida players had a longest break than usual since they weren’t in a bowl game, and McCalister came back to school for the spring semester frustrated. He didn’t play a big role during his first two years on campus, and if that was going to change, it needed to happen soon.

So he glued himself to film.

Whenever his computer was open, the redshirt sophomore was watching NFL players similar to him. That’s a little more difficult than it sounds. At 6-6, 246 pounds, McCalister also has a 7-2 wingspan that makes him a nightmare for offensive tackle. He found three players with similar measurements Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Cleveland Browns defensive end Barkevious Mingo and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Watching that trio helped McCalister learn how to use his size and wingspan to his advantage. He developed a move using his long arms, sticking them in the chest of the offensive lineman while using his speed to get the corner.

“That’s my golden ticket,” Alex McCalister said. “There's not a lot of people that can stop that.”

It was obvious in the spring that the move was working, but the consistency wasn’t here he wanted it to be. The most important thing was that he finally felt comfortable on the field. It didn’t feel like the game was speeding by without him. He wasn’t surprised by the tempo and had enough speed to be effective on the edge.

"That's when it all really started to click and condense,” McCalister said. “It started to slow down for me. It wasn't all fast, and I can handle it now."

Added weight also played an important role. McCalister came to Gainesville weighing 206 pounds out of high school and knew he wouldn’t play an important part on the defense for at least a year. He needed to get bigger, and 40 pounds later, it looks like that has finally helped him.

But when the 206-pound kid came to Gainesville and worked out at a camp before his senior year in high school, the Florida coaching staff was intrigued. Muschamp and former defensive line coach Dan Quinn watched him closely on the field and paid attention to his measurements. The 6-6 frame with a 7-2 wingspan and a 38-inch vertical had all the characteristics of a recruit they were willing to take a chance on. The vertical showed explosion from his lower body that should pay off in the pass rush once the weight came.

Years later, he’s now locked in as the backup to Dante Fowler at the BUCK position, but that doesn’t mean he will only be on the field when Fowler isn’t. The Gators want to get McCalister involved, especially on passing downs.

“I think Alex McCalister has done some really nice things,” Will Muschamp said. “He’s been a guy that’s been a steady performer through camp. He’s played the run very well and very pleased with him.”

The hype around Fowler this fall continues to build, and no one expects a bigger season for him than McCalister. The two are roommates and have been close friends in their three years on campus. They work together on their pass rush moves and have learned from each other throughout the process.

The rest of the defensive linemen that Fowler will see a lot of double teams this fall. With that comes one-on-one matchups for everybody else. The goal is to have other linemen step up so opponents can’t focus in on Fowler.

“Most teams are going to set to Dante as a big threat, so that just allows others to come along and show what they can do to get to the quarterback as well,” McCalister said.