2011 Florida Preview – Defense
Florida LB Jelani Jenkins
Florida LB Jelani Jenkins
Posted Jun 6, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Florida Gator Defense

Florida Gators

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Florida Preview | 2011 Florida Offense
- 2011 Florida Defense | 2011 Florida Depth Chart
- Florida Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: The 2010 Gators might have been a disappointment, but the defense can't be blamed after finishing ninth in the nation in yards allowed and 12th in pass defense. The run D had problems with South Carolina, South Florida, and Mississippi State, but it was decent overall. Now it's time for a youth movement, and that's not a bad thing considering the tremendous talent level across the board. The superstar-loaded recruiting class of last year is about to blow up, especially on the line, with end Ronald Powell leading the way. The secondary has to undergo some major changes, hurt by the loss of star safety Ahmad Black and the dismissal of NFL-caliber corner Janoris Jenkins, but the athletes are there including the star defensive back of last year's class, Matt Elam. The linebackers will be good, but they probably won't be spectacular even though Jonathan Bostic can do a little of everything and Jelani Jenkins will likely be an all-star.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jelani Jenkins, 44
Sacks: Jaye Howard, 3
Interceptions: Jonathan Bostic, 3

Star of the defense: Sophomore DE Ronald Powell
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB Cody Riggs
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Dominique Easley
Best pro prospect: Powell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) LB Jelani Jenkins, 2) Powell, 3) DT Sharrif Floyd
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, The 2010 Recruiting Class
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Free Safety

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The pass rush wasn't nearly as good as it should've been, and Marcus Lattimore was able to tap dance his way to a 212-yard day in the game of the 2010 East season, but the line wasn't quite as bad as it might have appeared. Disappointing? Yes. Ineffective? At times. However, the most talented players were really, really young, as in true freshman young, and now the payoff should come.

The 2010 Florida recruiting class was considered to be truly special, and Ronald Powell was the crown jewel. The 6-4, 250-pound sophomore was expected to be all-timer special right out of the box, and he wasn't all that bad as he tried to get his feet wet making 25 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. Of course, that's not going to cut it this year for a player of his speed and athleticism. A potential pass rushing terror at the hybrid Buck position, he has the 4.5 speed and the burst off the ball to grow into a dominant performer. At least that's the hope. Backing him up will be 6-4, 240-pound redshirt freshman Chris Martin, a former Cal Golden Bear with tremendous tackling ability and the athleticism to be a perfect fit as a linebacker or a pass rushing end.

Needing to make more noise on the other side is senior William Green, a backup last year who made 13 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. A decent special teamer, now he'll get a chance in the rotation on the outside, but he has to be a disruptive pass rusher when or he'll quickly get pushed aside in the rotation. Pushing for the job is junior Earl Okine, a defensive tackle by nature who'll be a perfect fit whenever the line goes to a 3-4. At 6-7 and 282 pounds he has a huge frame and enough athleticism to get into the backfield from time to time, but his strength will be as a run defender.

The key to the interior will be health. Junior Omar Hunter was a superstar recruit in 2008 after leading his team to the Georgia state title, but he hasn't been able to live up to his billing because he hasn't been able to get past a slew of injuries. After making 17 tackles as a freshman he fought through problems to make 23 stops and three tackles for loss, but he's been limited with a back injury to go along with an elbow problem and a dinged up ankle. At 6-1 and 305 pounds he's built for the nose, and if he can stay in one piece he'll be tremendous. He'll combine with 6-2, 278-pound sophomore Dominique Easley, a smallish 6-2, 278-pound interior defender who made four tackles in his true freshman season. The talent is undeniable, being ranked among the best tackle prospects in the nation last year, and he has all-star potential depending on his role and his ability to get into the backfield.

Easley was considered by almost everyone to be the nation's No. 2 defensive tackle prospect last year. 6-3, 303-pound sophomore Sharrif Floyd was No. 1. Able to be used as a 3-4 nose tackle or a whale of a run-stuffing one gap tackle in a 4-3, the Philadelphia native is very big, very quick, and very tough. He made 23 tackles and eight tackles for loss in his first year after being a year removed from a torn ACL, and now he should blow up into an All-America producer. Also looking to get paid in the near future is 6-3, 302-pound senior Jaye Howard, a big-time talent who came up with 29 stops to go along with three sacks and a team-lead tying 12 tackles for loss. Coming off of ankle surgery he was out this offseason, but he knows what he's doing.

Watch Out For … Powell. He actually wasn't all that bad last year, but considering he was expected to be Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas wrapped up in a true freshman package, he didn't get the job done. That's going to change. This coaching staff is going to know how to turn him loose and make him a killer.
Strength: Talent. Powell, Easley, Floyd, and Howard would be the signature star on almost any defensive line outside of the top 25 teams, and once the light turns out for this group, look out.
Weakness: Proven production. Is this the proverbial looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane line? At least five players on the two deep depth chart will be major NFL contributors in the next few years, but it's time to stop looking the part. A line with as much talent as the 2010 front four had shouldn't have finished 11th in the SEC in sacks.
Outlook: Release the hounds. Head coach Will Muschamp knows how to put together killer defensive lines, and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also works with the line. If everyone can stay healthy the tackles will be phenomenal and Powell, Martin and Green should be phenomenal on the outside. It won't matter if the line works in a 3-4 or a 4-3, the production will come.
Unit Rating: 9


State of the Unit: The linebackers were fine, but hardly spectacular considering the recent stars who've come through Gainesville. The depth is extremely young, but there's enough experience returning among the starters to be fine. If the line plays up to its talent, there shouldn't be too many messes to clean up and the linebackers should be able to focus on just doing their jobs.

The leading tackler among the linebackers and the team's second-leading tackler is back on the outside with sophomore Jelani Jenkins ready to build on his all-star season. With 6-1, 223-pound size and 4.4 speed he's a dream of a weakside linebacker making 76 tackles with an interception, two sacks, and five tackles for loss as an 11 game starter. Able to play either in the middle or on the outside, the 2007 and 2008 Maryland Player of the Year puts up big numbers and big plays no matter where he's put. Adding even more athleticism to the position is 6-2, 219-pound junior Dee Finley, a safety-sized speedster who mostly worked on special teams making one tackle in four games before breaking his collarbone.

Flying under the radar is junior Jonathan Bostic, a 6-1, 238-pound big hitter who finished third on the team with 57 tackles with two sacks, three interceptions, and three tackles for loss. Fast enough to play on the weakside and tough enough to hold up in the middle, he makes stops no matter where he plays. He made a ton of big plays and is a leader for the front seven, but he's not necessarily splashy, but he doesn't need to be. On the flip side, 6-0, 217-pound redshirt freshman Michael Taylor is a pure athlete with unlimited range and the ability to work at any of the three linebacker spots. A top prospect last year, he's an inside linebacker with outside linebacker quickness.

Getting the first look on the strongside will be junior Lerentee McCray, a big 6-2, 241-pound veteran who's part defensive end and part outside linebacker. While he could work as a Buck up front if needed. He'll get the most work as a pure linebacker. He only made six tackles with a tackle for loss and a forced fumble in his limited time, but he missed a few games with an ankle sprain and was a top special teamer. Also in the hunt for the starting job is 6-3, 212-pound redshirt freshman Gideon Ajagbe, good recruit last year as both an outside linebacker and a running back. He wasn't the five-star prospect like others in the class, but he was still expected to be a factor right away as part of the linebacker rotation before getting knocked out for the year with a torn rotator cuff.

Watch Out For … the strongside job. McCray and Ajabe can move, and they'll put up plenty of stats because of the position, but they're the unknown on the defensive front seven. It's one of the few spots on the defense without a true five-star, can't miss prospect waiting to break through.
Strength: Size. In today's day and age, it's the norm to go with athletic linebackers who check in at 220 pounds or less. Florida has big linebackers and they can all run. Sure, the backups all weigh around 220, but Bostic, Jenkins, and McCray are NFL-sized.
Weakness: Big plays. Jenkins did his part here and there, and Bostic was better than he got credit for, but this wasn't the havoc wreaking unit it was supposed to be. The coaching staff will do what it can to get this group doing more.
Outlook: As always, the Gators are full of athletic linebackers and everyone can run. Bostic is solid and Jenkins is on the verge of big things, but for the coaching staff to occasionally run a 3-4 it'll take a few surprises. It's a promising corps, but it might not be spectacular right away.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary is loaded with talented prospects with excellent upside, but it doesn't have Janoris Jenkins. Considered to be among the top NFL corner prospects, if not the No. 1 defensive back on the board after making 44 tackles with three picks and six broken up passes, he was booted off the team after getting arrested for the second time in three months for marijuana possession. He was an All-SEC star, as was safety and leading tackler Ahmad Black, who did everything for the secondary making 108 tackles with five picks and 11 tackles for loss. This year's secondary gets a major infusion of talent from the recruiting class, and it should get help from a great pass rush, but the spotlight will be on several key spots.

Junior Jeremy Brown is the one returning starter to the secondary after getting the call ten times before missing time late in the season with a hamstring problem. At 5-10 and 184 pounds he has decent size and good ball skills, but he only made 15 tackles with three picks and five broken up passes. His problem has been his health, missing his first two seasons with a bad back. Considering his injury history, 6-3, 182-pound senior Moses Jenkins has to be at the ready. Expected to be a part of the starting mix last year, he ended up serving as a key reserve for half the year making 15 tackles with a pick before suffering an elbow injury. He got a sixth year of eligibility, and now the very fast, very athletic veteran should be able to use his size and skills as a key part of the rotation.

Working on the right side will be sophomore Cody Riggs after getting a little bit of starting time as a true freshman and finishing with a solid 18 tackles with a pick and two tackles for loss. At 5-9 and 166 pounds he's not all that big, but he's fast. He might not be the most physical corner, but he can move and he'll be a ball hawk. True freshman De'Ante Saunders isn't nearly the big-time talent that others in the latest recruiting class are, but he got to school early and showed he he's ready to play right away. The 5-8, 173-pounder will push for the job on the right side right away with excellent quickness and feistiness as a tackler.

It's time for sophomore Matt Elam to be the man. The 5-10, 199-pounder was the top defensive back in the star-studded 2010 recruiting class with all the tools and skills to be an all-star and next-level starter. He might not be huge for a strong safety, but he's a great hitter, ultra-quick, and can fly with the speed to work as a top nickel defender when needed. The 2009 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year made 22 tackles with a sack and a broken up pass, but it'll be a major disappointment if he's not an All-SEC performer sooner than later. 5-11, 183-pound sophomore Jaylen Watkins can play either strong safety or corner, but he was mostly a special teamer last year after coming in as Scout's No. 4 rated corner prospect and making eight tackles. Lightning fast and versatile, he can play anywhere.

The big question mark in the secondary is at free safety where junior Josh Evans will get the look after making 14 tackles with a pick. He started the first three games of the year and ended up work as a key reserve. He has the 6-1, 195-pound size and phenomenal athleticism, but he's still raw. He'll be fighting with sophomore Joshua Shaw, who'll get his chance after seeing a little bit of time as a true freshman. The 6-3, 186-pounder has good size, a long wingspan, and NFL speed with the skills to be one of the top five corner prospects coming into last year.

On the way are a slew of top-shelf defensive back prospects from the recent recruiting class. The best of the lot should be Marcus Roberson, who said he was going to Florida, then Auburn, then finally Florida. The 6-1, 175-pounder projects to be a corner but he can play anywhere in the secondary, as can 5-11, 192-pound Valdez Showers. The lightning fast Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year will end up working at corner. Jabari Gorman is a safety who chose the Gators over Florida State, LSU, and Ohio State. The Miami native is 5-11 and 170-pounds with great range.

Watch Out For … Elam. A phenomenal athlete, he's too fast, too talented, and too good to not become a major superstar. The team needs a playmaker at safety, and he should be it as one of the team's top tacklers at both strong safety and as a nickel back.
Strength: Athleticism. The Gators are fast all across the board, but the secondary is full of flashes of lightning. Starting with Elam, the athleticism is incredible and should make up for several early mistakes.
Weakness: Experience. Losing Janoris Jenkins hurts, and losing Ahmad Black is a killer from a leadership standpoint. Throw in the loss of safety Will Hill, and the Gators have some major rebuilding to do.
Outlook: The Gator secondary finished 12th in the nation and second in the SEC allowing 176yards per game, and it finished 12th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. There won't likely be a major drop-off even with all the replacements, but it's asking a log to immediately make up for all the key losses. It'll take a few games, but the athleticism and talent will shine through once the freshmen figure out what they're doing.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Junior Caleb Sturgis was supposed to shine as the team's star placekicker after finishing as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award two years ago, but a back injury cut his season short. He connected on 22-of-30 field goals in 2009, but he wasn't right last year. As long as he's right, he has 50-plus range and the make-up to be clutch when needed.

Chas Henry stepped in for an injury Sturgis and was one of the nation's top punters averaging 45.1 yards per kick with 18 put inside the 20. He had a booming leg, and now it'll be up to true freshman Kyle Christy, who got to school early and looked good enough to get the call right away. Scout's No. 2 ranked punter, the Indiana native should blast the ball, but it's asking too much for him to be the consistently accurate star right away that Henry was.

Sophomore Andre Debose didn't do much as a wide receiver, but he was a whale of a kickoff returner averaging 28 yards per try with two scores including a key play against LSU and a touchdown against South Carolina. Running back Chris Rainey averaged 23.1 yards per kickoff return, and now he'll take on the full-time punt return job after averaging 7.4 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Christy. The Gators finished second in the nation and first in the SEC in net punting, and while the coverage team had a lot to do with that, Henry was a special punter. Christy doesn't need to be Henry, but he has to average over 40 yards per kick.
Strength: The return game. If Sturgis is right, he's one of the SEC's top weapons, but the key to the Gator special teams should be the returners. The kickoff return team finished sixth in the nation averaging 26.26 yards per try, with Jeff Demps helping Debose and Rainey, while the punt return game averaged a decent 9.15 yards per try.
Weakness: Sure-thing kickers. Will Sturgis's back hold up? Can Christy get the job done as a true freshman? The kicking game was a major plus over the last few years, and now there are question marks.
Outlook: The return game will be fantastic, the coverage teams will be solid, and Sturgis will be fine. If Christy can be consistent, the special teams will be a plus, but they're not the sure-thing they were going into last year.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 Florida Preview | 2011 Florida Offense
- 2011 Florida Defense | 2011 Florida Depth Chart
- Florida Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006