2012 Florida Preview – Defense
Florida LB Jonathan Bostic
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Florida Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The defense wasn't necessarily the problem last year. However, the stats are a bit misleading – ranked eighth in the nation in total defense, considering the Gators didn't exactly face the Green Bay Packer offense on a regular basis. The run defense was a bit soft at times and there weren't enough plays in the backfield, making the concerns this offseason about the line a bit more glaring. There's talent, but several former top recruits have to start playing up to their stars after DE Ronald Powell suffered a torn ACL this offseason. The linebacking corps is fine, but thin, and the secondary should be a strength again once the right combination is found. This is still a young and emerging defense, but it'll be a good one.
Star of the defense: Junior DT/DE Sharrif Floyd (it's DE Ronald Powell when he's back from his torn ACL)
Tackles: Jonathan Bostic, 94
Sacks: Ronald Powell, 6
Interceptions: Matt Elam, De'Ante Saunders, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Jelani Jenkins
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Louchiez Purifoy
Best pro prospect: Powell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Floyd, 2) Jenkins, 3) S Matt Elam
Strength of the defense: Safety, Starting Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Proven Depth, Line
How fast can Ronald Powell recover? The crown jewel of the epic 2010 Florida recruiting class was just starting to come into his own last year and was dominant throughout this spring, but he suffered a torn ACL and questions about his return range from four months to next season. When he's right, he's one of the nation's most promising defensive end prospects with first round NFL draft ability and upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker. At 6-4 and 250 pounds he has good size, and great frame, and phenomenal speed and quickness with 4.5 wheels and a great burst off the ball. He came up with 32 tackles with six sacks and nine tackles for loss last year, but the Gators might have to wait a year to get their star back – if he doesn't heal up and go off early to the next level.
With Powell out the spotlight will fall on sophomore Gideon Ajagbe at the Buck to see if he can handle the work. At 6-3 and 222 pounds he's built like an outside linebacker and he has a great burst, but he doesn't have much experience with just four career appearances as a special teamer, Also in the hunt for the job will be Letrentee McCray, a 6-2, 247-pound linebacker who's a career spot starter making 24 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Out this offseason with a shoulder injury, he's fine and will get every chance to see what he can do.
On the other side, junior Sharrif Floyd is a 3-4 NFL defensive end or a whale of a run-stuffing, one-gap tackle in a 4-3. The 6-3, 305-pound Philadelphia native is very big, very quick, and very tough following up a 23-tackle first year with 46 stops with 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Two years removed from a torn ACL, he's back to form and had a great offseason. Now he's going to show why he was just about everyone's No. 1 defensive tackle recruit in 2010.
Hanging around on the nose again is Omar Hunter, a superstar recruit in 2008 who led his team to a Georgia state title. He has been good, but he hasn't lived up to his billing after suffering through a slew of injuries early on. The 6-1, 314-pound senior is a bowling ball who made 31 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, and now he has to be a rock on the inside. He'll work in a rotation with junior Dominique Easley, a 6-2, 286-pounder who was one of the nation's top defensive tackle recruits in 2010 and is growing into his own. He's a question mark coming back from a torn ACL late in the year, but when he was healthy he was a solid starter for the entire regular season making 37 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
With Jaye Howard off to the next level, 6-5, 305-pound sophomore Leon Orr has a shoulder problem this spring and he wasn't quite up to snuff and has to produce big of be pushed out of a tackle job. He came up with ten tackles with a sack as a key reserve, but he hasn't blossomed so far as expected after being a top prospect in 2010. He gets erased way too easily and when he gets blocked he stays blocked.
If Hunter doesn't step up his play, 6-4, 285-pound senior Nick Alajajian will get his shot after spending his career on the offensive line and as a special teamer. The former right tackle is still figuring out what he's doing, but he's active.
Watch Out For … Floyd. There were two defensive linemen who stood out this offseason. Powell was one, and Floyd was the other. He's growing into an excellent NFL prospect now that the light appears to have gone on. Now he knows what he's doing.
Strength: Elite, superstar talent. It's always iffy whether or not top high school recruits turn into players, but Florida has a who's who of former superstar prospects.
Weakness: Depth. Yeah, there are a slew of good names and guys who look like they should be fantastic, but the Powell injury is a killer and there's a mad scramble hoping the backups across the board can step up their play. Until Powell is back – if he's back this year – Floyd is the star of the show and he'll be beaten on.
Outlook: Everything will turn out to be fine, but it's going to take a while to find the right combination until Powell is back. This wasn't a stellar offseason for the line, but that's partly because the offensive line stepped up and became more physical and more aggressive. Floyd has All-SEC potential, and Hunter will be solid, but the holes have to be filled in around them and the depth has to quickly develop.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Senior Jonathan Bostic led the team with 94 tackles with three sacks and ten tackles for loss, and while he came into his own in the middle last year, he'll have an even more expanded role. Fast enough to play on the weakside and tough enough to hold up in the middle again, he's the rock that everything gets funneled to and he's growing into the leader of the front seven. At 6-1 and 243 pounds he has good size to go along with his athleticism.
Back on the weakside is 6-0, 233-pound junior Jelani Jenkins is a terrific veteran with 4.4 speed and the proven production to be considered one of the team's biggest defensive stars. After breaking through with a 76-tackle 2010, he finished second on the team with 75 tackles with two sacks, six tackles for loss, and a 75-yard pick-six against Furman. Everything about his game points to an all-star season and a spot in the first-round of the 2013 NFL draft except one key area: drops. He put way too many interceptions on the turn last year and now has to use his experience and athleticism to be even more of a gamechanger.
6-2, 222-pound junior Darrin Kitchens will get the first look on the strongside after spending last year as a spot starter and a key backup making 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. A good prospect out of high school, but not an elite one, he's not all that big, but he's active and can move. He'll come out in nickel and dime packages.
Sophomore Michael Taylor is a pure athlete with unlimited range and the ability to work at any of the three linebacker spots. He got the start against Vanderbilt on the weakside, but this year he'll get the first look in the middle. With 36 tackles on the year with a pick and 4.5 tackles for loss, he's a proven veteran.
How fast can Antonio Morrison be ready? A decent recruit out of Illinois, he turned down Alabama and a slew of Big Ten schools to work on the weakside. At 6-1 and 209 pounds he's not all that big, built like a safety, he's a hitting machine who gets all over the field in a hurry.
Watch Out For … the weakside. Bostic and Jenkins are special defenders, but the third linebacker spot needs to be solid. Kitchens will be fine, and he has produced when given his chance, while sophomore Graham Stewart spent last year as a special teamer and will be in the rotation.
Strength: Bostic and Jenkins. They might not be the flashiest linebacking duo, and they don't get a whole bunch of promotion in an SEC full of defensive superstars, but they're going to be the steady rocks of a good Gator defense. They should combine for around 175 tackles.
Weakness: Proven depth. Taylor is a good one, but there are plenty of question marks at the outside spots. A major injury to Bostic or Jenkins would be a devastating blow.
Outlook: Everyone can run and there won't be any problems swarming around the ball. Now the linebacking corps has to come up with more big plays – a huge problem over the last few years – and the starting three have to stay healthy. This is a good corps, but it's a really, really thin one meaning there might be more 4-2-5 alignments to get the best players on the field.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Junior Matt Elam was one of the big gets in the star-studded 2010 recruiting class, and with all the skills and all the tools he's on the verge of really big things. He came up with a strong sophomore season making 78 tackles with two sacks, two picks, 11 tackles for loss and seven tackles for loss as a terrific all-around playmaker, and now he might do even more at safety and as the main man in nickel packages as long as he doesn't have any issues with a groin injury that kept him on the sidelines this spring. The 2009 Gatorade Florida Player of the Year has All-America potential and should take another step forward working in a variety of spots.
Working at the other safety spot, at least to start out, will be senior Josh Evans, a good-looking free safety who started eight games and finished fifth on the team with 51 tackles with a sack, a pick, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The 6-1, 201-pounder has good size and is a phenomenal athlete, but he's still fighting for playing time with 5-9, 186-pound sophomore De'Ante Saunders, who came in and found a role as a true freshman making 26 tackles with two picks. He's only 5-8 and 186 pounds, but he's extremely quick and he's great at getting to the ball.
Junior Cody Riggs is back at a starting corner spot after making 31 tackles, but he didn't come up with a pick and he only broke up two passes. At 5-9 and 180 pounds he's not all that big, but he's really, really fast and he beefed up in a big way after hovering around 165 pounds last year. Expected to be a ball-hawk, now he has to start making more plays, while 6-1 186-pound sophomore Liucheiz Purifoy should get the nod on the other side. A great recruit last year, he turned into a nice special teamer and a good part of the defensive back rotation making 27 tackles with a forced fumble, but now he'll get his chance to become a bigger playmaker. He'll have to be considering he's wearing No. 15.
Ready to show what he can do is redshirt freshman Valdez Showers, a good-tackling 5-11, 188-pound prospect who can play corner but will be tried out early on as a safety. The former Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year spurned Michigan and a slew of top Big Ten schools to come to Gainesville, and now he'll be used in a variety of ways.
Watch Out For … the return of Marcus Roberson. The promising sophomore was considered one of the top corner prospects in last year's recruiting class, and he showed off a little of his skills making 22 tackles with a pick starting the first ten games of the season. Still trying to get healthy after a neck injury suffered against South Carolina, he's expected to be back in the mix and cleared to play again later this summer.
Strength: Safety. Elam and Evans are veterans who should be far stronger now that they have their roles down and can take on a bigger leadership role. However, Evans has to keep working with several good prospects waiting to take over.
Weakness: Big plays. The defense came up with a pathetic eight interceptions with the secondary getting just six of them. The corners have to do a far, far better job of ball-hawking.
Outlook: The Florida defense finished seventh in the nation against the pass and 28th in pass efficiency defense, but that's mostly because almost no one on the schedule could throw a forward pass. Even so, the secondary was a strength and it should be again with lots of moveable parts and plenty of good young players waiting to shine around Elam.
Unit Rating: 8
Back to be in the mix for All-America honors and the Lou Groza award is Caleb Sturgis, a Groza finalist who returned from a back injury to nail 22-of-26 field goals including a 55-yard bomb against Furman. With a great leg and ultra-reliable, he'll win the Gators at least one key game.
The punting game was fine with Kyle Christy stepping in and showing tremendous promise as a freshman averaging 40.9 yards per kick and putting ten inside the 20. After splitting time with David Lerner, now the job will likely be his alone for the next three years if he can be as consistent as he was this offseason.
The return game loses Chris Rainey on punts, but De'Ante Saunders is a good option even though he averaged just 4.2 yards per try. WR Andre Debose averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown, while Solomon Patton will be a part of the mix after averaging 24.1 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Christy. He was thrown to the wolves a bit last year, and while he wasn't necessarily consistent, he wasn't bad. He has a solid leg and should get the average up around 42 yards.
Strength: Sturgis. The offense is going to be better, but if it starts sputtering again like last year against the better SEC defenses, Sturgis should be a difference maker. He was the offense at times.
Weakness: Punt returns. Chris Rainey only averaged 8.8 yards per try, and no one else did much of anything. This wasn't a major weakness, but the Gators could use more punch.
Outlook: Once again the Gators will be rock-solid. Sturgis is a special kicker, Christy is coming into his own, and the coverage teams are great. Kickoff returns could be a big plus.
Unit Rating: 8
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