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Friday December 28, 2012 Gators Notebook: Easley's tough decision, Superdome vibe, Lewis at home, plus more

Updated: 9:27pm, December 28

Dominique Easley

Gators junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley at Thursday's practice.

NEW ORLEANS -- Gators junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley is one of Florida's underclassmen considering bypassing his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.

Easley arrived as UF as one of the nation's top prep defensive prospects out of Staten Island, N.Y. While he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the regular-season finale against Florida State last year, Easley returned and has started 10 games this season.

The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Easley offers NFL scouts an intriguing combination of size and speed. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn calls Easley one of the toughest players he has coached and Easley can play the interior line or defensive end.

Still, there are those who believe Easley could use another year of experience to improve his draft stock in 2014.

Easley's 21 tackles rank 14th on the team though he did miss two games due to nagging injuries. Easley's five tackles-for-loss include a team-high four sacks.

Easley said Tuesday that he plans to address his status at a later date but that the decision has not been an easy one.

"It's my future, so it's a difficult process,'' Easley said.

A SUPERDOME VIBE

In 37 days the Superdome will be the center of the sports world when Super Bowl XLVII kicks off on Feb. 3.

It was hard to imagine the scene Thursday morning as the Gators held their second practice here for the Sugar Bowl. Other than for the players and coaches on the field, the stadium was empty.

Still, the Gators are well aware of the dome's rich history in American culture. The Superdome has hosted numerous Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls and famous rock concerts since it opened in August 1971.

It was also the place where thousands of New Orleans residents lived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We had some guys in awe a little bit when they walked in there [Monday] knowing some of the great games, the great Sugar Bowls and Super Bowls that have been played here,'' Gators coach Will Muschamp said.

Gators senior Xavier Nixon started in the 2010 Sugar Bowl as a true freshman. He understands the dome's history and what it means to play his final college game there.

"It's always great playing in an elite arena,'' Nixon said. "We should appreciate the opportunity we have to practice here because not too long ago people in here were just trying to survive, to make it and see the next day.

"The most important thing is just to stay focused and not be overwhelmed."

HOMETOWN WELCOME

Gators tight ends coach Derek Lewis is a New Orleans native and was a popular figure with the media on Thursday. Check out GatorZone.com this weekend for a feature on Lewis and his days driving a city bus in New Orleans before returning to school and starting his coaching career.

Derek Lewis

Meanwhile, Lewis shared the story of why he had a cast on his right hand during the LSU game. You could say he gets fired up before games to fire up the players.

"A little impromptu [session]. No coaches in there. I just try to frame the game for them,'' Lewis said of his pregame routine. "I got a little worked up. I kind of got overzealous and I punched through [a white chalk board] and I ended up slicing five of my tendons. We're this close from hitting the main artery.

"I do take it to heart. I love the game. The game has done a lot for me and my family and I try to give it back."

Defensive end Lerentee McCray laughed at the memory.

"I was definitely right there," McCray said. "That man is crazy. He drew the first blood."

The Gators won 14-6 to officially announce their return to the upper echelon of the SEC.

NO JOKE

While he won't coach in the Sugar Bowl, new Florida receivers coach Joker Phillips is here working with receivers at practice. He was recently hired to replace interim receivers coach Bush Hamdan, a graduate assistant who coached receivers during the regular season.

Muschamp said adding a veteran coach like Phillips, who spent the last three years as head coach at Kentucky, is invaluable for a team in need of improvement at that position.

"Joker's experience is really the reason why he is here,'' Muschamp said. "He really brings a lot of experience to the position, something that I felt was very important for us to have as we more forward."

Senior receiver Omarius Hines has already learned some new techniques in his short time around Phillips.

"I wish I had another year so he could coach me. He knows what he's talking about. He knows the little things. He has helped me a lot,'' Hines said.

CATCHING UP

Sam Robey

Gators fifth-year senior offensive lineman Sam Robey is from Louisville and has several of his former teammates at Trinity High as the opponent in the Sugar Bowl.

(Photo: Robey)

Louisville offensive lineman Alex Kupper and quarterback Will Stein are former teammates of Robey's and Cardinals fullback Nick Heuser is a good friend who played at rival St. Xavier High.

"It's fun to see them and to play my last game against them,'' Robey said. "They are guys I have known for a long time."

QUOTE OF NOTE I

"We've got some very strong personalities on this team, and I mean that in a very positive light. But they also know when to work and know when to shut it down and when to have fun. That's what has been fun about this bunch." -- Muschamp on any concerns about Gators not being focused in New Orleans

QUOTE OF NOTE II

"Hopefully I will play against him one day.'' -- Hines on his cousin, New Orleans Saints linebacker David Hawthorne, who met up with Hines on Monday night

QUOTE OF NOTE III

"I just got goose bumps when you started talking about them. I'm real proud of the kind of people they are and the kind of players they are. They are good kids. You can beat them on a rep and tell them what they did wrong and they can take the constructive criticism and move on to the next rep." -- Nixon on freshmen defensive linemen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard

EXTRA POINTS

Punter Kyle Christy and offensive lineman Kyle Koehne were the last players to arrive in New Orleans following the Christmas break. Both practiced Tuesday after missing Monday's workout when their scheduled flight from Indianapolis was delayed due to inclement weather. Christy is from Brownsville, Ind., and Koehne is from Indianapolis. "Everybody is here and accounted for,'' Muschamp said. ... Hines and some of his teammates bumped into a familiar face downtown on Monday night: Louisville senior cornerback Adrian Bushell, who played for the Gators in their last trip to the Sugar Bowl before transferring ... The Gators have taken over portions of the team hotel here in New Orleans, setting up a football office and multiple meeting rooms. There is also an entertainment room for the players to hang out and play video games and other activities ... The team spent part of Thursday night at Rock 'N' Bowl on an official team outing.

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