GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap received a few text messages and several pats on the back last week when his name appeared near the top of a list of players projected as first-round picks in the 2010 NFL draft.
Friends, family members and some teammates congratulated him on his No. 3 ranking.
His position coach, Dan McCarney, had a different reaction.
``My response was, 'What are you No. 3 on? The Arena League?' I don't buy into it,'' McCarney said. ``He's got a lot of improvement to make.''
That could be the scary part for opponents. Florida's best lineman, the defensive MVP of the national championship game, is just starting to reach his potential.
``Last year, it was hard to get Dunlap to run from me to that door there,'' defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said, standing about 10 feet from the entryway. ``He's gotten so much publicity, and he's taken that upon himself to be a better football player.''
n and ranked fifth with 13 1/2 tackles for a loss. He also blocked a school-record three punts.
He was just as good in the Bowl Championship Series title game against Oklahoma. He finished with four tackles and half a sack, and blocked a 49-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter that kept the Gators ahead 14-7.
Oddly, after the game ended and during Florida's celebration, Dunlap told family members he didn't play very well. He thought he could have shed blocks better and done more to disrupt quarterback Sam Bradford.
Dunlap was shocked when his name was called as the defensive MVP.
Strong believes it was the best thing to happen to the 6-foot-6, 290-pound, long-armed junior from North Charleston, S.C. It gave Dunlap a confidence boost and motivated him to work harder than ever this summer to try to maximize his ability and live up to lofty expectations.
The result? Instead of coaches yelling at Dunlap to go hard every play, they have spent more time praising his commitment and work ethic.
``It's a whole different feeling, a relief that you really gave it your all and you got that much better,'' Dunlap said. ``It makes practice easier when you go harder because it seems like everything just goes smoother when you're not trying to loaf or just get through practice.''
nlap's progress a complete turnaround, though.
``I wouldn't say (he goes) all out all the time,'' coach Urban Meyer said. ``It's getting close, though. It was minimal most of the time. Now, it's pretty much max most of the time. He's really much improved, a different player.''
Dunlap has performed better against the run, shown more awareness of down-and-distance situations and become a more vocal leader.
``I'm just trying to work hard and meet the expectations of everybody else,'' Dunlap said.
Although Strong watches Dunlap practice all the time, one move he reviewed on tape last week caught his eye. A speedy running back slipped outside Dunlap, but the lineman responded by tracking him down from behind.
``He's so fast and athletic and has a tremendous upside,'' Strong said. ``The thing he needs to do each day is come ready to play. Sometimes when guys have the ability, they think, 'I can go out there and turn it on when I want to.' He has to understand that he has to turn it on all the time.''
If that happens - Dunlap believes it will - the Gators have little doubt that he will be the most dominant defender in the nation.
He already is getting the attention.
After taking home the MVP trophy and getting named to just about every preseason watch list for annual defensive awards, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Dunlap third on his initial list of 2010 NFL prospects.
Dunlap knows what to expect next. He anticipates opponents chipping him, double-teaming him and rolling quarterbacks away from him. He welcomes those maneuvers, too, because that would mean he's finally reached his potential.
``He is much, much improved right now from anytime last year,'' McCarney said. ``He's working harder. His attitude is better. His practice habits are better. I'm really proud of him.''

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