2013 Florida Preview –Defense
Florida CB Loucheiz Purifoy
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Florida Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The Florida defense came up with good stats two years ago, but didn't play any offenses with a pulse. The Florida defense came up with great stats last year, and it played a slew of high-powered attacks – the D was just that good. As always, the Gators lose some NFL talents with tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam off to the next level, but there's talent, athleticism and depth across the board to expect another special year. Ronald Powell is trying to come back from a knee injury and should be a factor at either one end or outside linebacker, while Dominique Easley appears ready to be the next great Florida lineman and Antonio Morrison should be another Bostic for the linebacking corps. If he doesn't end up at receiver, Loucheiz Purifoy should be the nation's best corner, and there are more than enough great athletes in the secondary to expect another great season from the pass defense.
Star of the defense: Junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy
Tackles: Loucheiz Purifoy, 51
Sacks: Dominique Easley, 4
Interceptions: Jaylen Watkins, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior NT Leon Orr
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Antonio Morrison
Best pro prospect: Purifoy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Purifoy, 2) DT Dominique Easley, 3) OLB/DE Ronald Powell
Strength of the defense: Pass Defense, Depth
Weakness of the defense: One Pure Pass Rusher, New Safeties
The defensive front was a killer against the run and did a good enough job to get into the backfield to get by, but now there's some shifting going on. With Sharrif Floyd off to the Minnesota Vikings, end Dominique Easley will be tried out at tackle after making 26 tackles with a team-leading four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 283 pounds he's smaller than Floyd and is more of a 3-4 end than a true tackle, but he's quick off the ball and fully back from a torn ACL suffered late in 2011. He finds ways to get behind the line, while 6-5, 310-pound Leon Orr will be more of a run stopper on the nose. While he doesn't have cement feet making a sack with 5.5 tackles for loss in a limited run, Orr is needed as an anchor who can hold his own on a more consistent basis. A top prospect in 2010, he gets blocked way too easily and doesn't disengage well, but he has the skills to become a major factor now that the job is his.
With Easley moving to the inside – if he stays there – 6-3, 265-pound sophomore Jonathan Bullard and 6-3, 260-pound redshirt freshman Bryan Cox, Jr. should end up rotating at one end. Bullard was a dominant force whenever he got his chances, coming up with 27 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss showing a great burst off the line and nice toughness against the run. Cox, the son of the former NFL star by the same name, looks the part in practices and should be a fantastic situational pass rusher.
It'll be an open-ended fight for the Buck position, and while junior Ronald Powell will almost certainly end up working more as an outside linebacker, he'll get his chances up front, too. The crown jewel of the epic 2010 Florida recruiting class was just starting to come into his own in 2011 and was dominant throughout the 2012 spring, but he suffered a torn ACL and didn't get back in the mix. When he's right, he's one of the nation's most promising playmakers with first round NFL draft ability and upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and now he's a bit lighter and quicker at 234 pounds on his 6-4 frame after checking in around 250 over the last few years. With a great frame and phenomenal speed and quickness, he has the talent, but now he has to prove he can stay healthy and get back his 4.5 speed.
No matter what Powell does or where he works, 6-3, 263-pound sophomore Dante Fowler, Jr. will get plenty of work at the Buck or end after coming up with a terrific true freshman season making 30 tackles with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. A superior prospect coming out of high school, he showed glimpses of what he can become, and now he'll get even more of a chance. If he goes to end and Powell is a linebacker, then watch out for redshirt freshman Alex McCalister, a dangerous 6-5, 238-pound pass rusher who was phenomenal in 2012 practices – the coaches love him – and now he'll do more and more in the rotation.
Watch Out For … the new tackles. The strength of the recruiting class is at defensive tackle, starting with JUCO transfer Darious Cummings for the interior. Squatty at 6-1 and 310 pounds, the former Florida State Seminole is a nose tackle with good enough quickness to get into the backfield from time to time. He'll back up Orr, while freshmen Jay-nard Bostwickand Caleb Brantley are big, quick talents with a world of upside.
Strength: Prototypes. Florida always gets its share of four-and-five star talents across the board, but the defensive line seems to always get the biggest talents. Even after losing an NFL first-rounder in Floyd and a rock in Hunter, everything is fine with pro talents Easley and Folwer ready to do more and several other stars ready to show what they can do.
Weakness: One sure-thing dominant pass rusher. This is nitpicking considering pressure comes from all sides, and sacks weren't a problem, but if Powell isn't right, there isn't any one guy who'll be expected to become a devastating double-digit sack artist.
Outlook: There were rumblings before last season that everything was about to change, and it sure did. All of a sudden, everything started to work and the front four was a brick wall against the run becoming far more physical and far more aggressive. Losing Floyd hurts, but this should still be the team's biggest strength as long as everyone can stay healthy.
Unit Rating: 9
Step One is to figure out where Ronald Powell is playing. The superstar defensive end prospect could end up working on the strongside as a hybrid pass rusher and open space defender against the run. He still needs to be 100% healthy, but his next-level spot is off the line, and now he'll get a chance to show what he can do. 6-3, 235-pound sophomore Neiron Ball turned into solid prospect for the spot this offseason getting plenty of time throughout last season making ten tackles. He suffered a medical scare a few years ago involving his brain, but everything checked out and he's just now starting to come into his own.
With Jon Bostic gone to the Chicago Bears, outside linebacker Antonio Morrison will get the first look in the middle after coming up with 34 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. The problem is his size, listed at 6-1 and 229 pounds, but that might be generous considering he's built like a safety. He'll come up with the big pop and he has great range, but he has to prove he can hold up. 6-2, 230-pound senior Darrin Kitchens brings a little more bulk to the inside with decent run-stopping abilities and decent versatility, making 14 tackles with a tackle for loss. He can play on the strongside if needed.
6-0, 231-pound junior Michael Taylor is getting a bit bigger but he can still move on the weakside. A pure athlete who can play anywhere in the linebacking corps, making 32 tackles with a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss working mostly both inside and out as a key reserve. He's a proven veteran who appears ready to become a major statistical factor and more of a pass rusher. He'll be backed up by one of the team's top recruits, Daniel McMillian, a superstar outside linebacker prospect with 6-3, 220-pound size and phenomenal speed in the backfield. A dream of a weakside option, he'll have no problems hanging in pass coverage.
Watch Out For … Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin. McMillian is the best of the new guys and could end up working in the middle in time, but the 6-4, 205-pound Rolin is a speedster who can hit on the outside and the 6-3, 220-pound Anzalone could end up seeing time anywhere in the corps.
Strength: Swarming ability. The Gator linebackers can all fly and they all get around the ball in a hurry. Any hesitation by a ball-carrier means the end of the play; the Florida linebackers will attack and end the play.
Weakness: Forcing fumbles. Considering how everyone hits like a ton of bricks and the athleticism across the ball, there should be far more takeaways. It's been a problem with the secondary coming up with most of the big plays, but the linebackers are too good to not come up with more gamechangers.
Outlook: It's not going to be a good thing losing Bostic, but Morrison can more than hold his own if he's in the middle, Ball is about to break out if Powell doesn't take over, and Taylor is destined to be a top statistical star. Throw in the great recruits coming in, and the linebackers should be fantastic once the coaching staff decides on the starting three.
Unit Rating: 8
The secondary that finished second in the nation in pass efficiency defense has to replace Matt Elam at strong safety and leading tackler Josh Evans, and now it'll be up to junior Cody Riggs to be ready to go after sitting out all of last year hurt. He's not all that big at just 5-9 and 184 pounds, but he provides a big pop and knows what he's doing in a variety of roles. Extremely fast, he can play corner if needed, but this is as big as he's going to get.
Riggs will combine forces with 6-0, 181-pound senior Jaylen Watkins and 5-10, 186-pound junior Jabari Gorman, who'll work in the mix at safety as well as in nickel and dime packages. Watkins is a tough tackler who's built for the nickel, making 39 tackles with eight broken up passes and three picks last season, while Gorman is extremely quick and has the potential to grow into more of a role. Now he needs time on the field.
Will Loucheiz Purifoy stay at corner, move to receiver, or do a little bit of both? A superior athlete and a great open-field tackler, he came up with 51 stops with five broken up passes and a team-leading three forced fumbles. While he has yet to come up with a pick in his career, the 6-1, 185-pound junior is still the best corner prospect in the 2014 NFL draft – if he chooses to leave early – with all the talent and all the tools to be a lock-down defender on one side. If he goes to the offensive side, Watkins will move to corner making 6-0, 195-pound junior Marcus Roberson the main man. Fully back after suffering a neck injury a few years ago, he made 23 tackles with two picks and a team-leading 12 broken up passes. Extremely physical, he's terrific when the ball is in the air and good against the run.
Sophomore Brian Poole came out of spring ball as the main option at the nickel, but he could play anywhere in the secondary. The 5-10, 203-pounder is built to play safety, has the skills to play corner, and will step in to be a key tackler after getting his feet wet on special teams. 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman Marcus Maye redshirted in his first season, and now he's a natural free safety who'll back up Riggs while also being used in dime packages. With great range and natural tracking ability, he should be great when roaming free.
Watch Out For … Vernon Hargreaves III. The No. 1 recruit in the class and the best corner prospect in America, the 5-11, 185-pounder is smart, tough, and a fantastic hitter in the open field. A blow-up tackler, he moves extremely well with shutdown ability and the talent to soon be the team's best defensive back.
Strength: Corner. Forgetting for a moment that Hargreaves would start for about 100 other schools right out of the box, Purifoy is a special talent and Roberson knows what he's doing. The corners won't get beaten deep.
Weakness: Safety. Everything will be fine with Riggs, Watkins and Gorman good ones who know how to play, but Elam and Evans were the team's top two tacklers combining for seven of the team's 20 picks. The Gators have skill at safety, but there's a drop off.
Outlook: It's not like the Gator secondary didn't face passers. Johnny Manziel didn't throw a touchdown pass in the loss to Florida. Tennessee's high-powered passing game came up with just 257 yards. LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Georgia's Aaron Murray, Florida State's E.J. Manuel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater are all going to make NFL money to varying degrees, and none of them, with the slight exception for Bridgewater, went nuts. The Gators gave up just seven touchdown passes on the season and came up with 20 picks. Expect more of the same.
Unit Rating: 8.5
There are some big losses on both sides of the ball, but the graduation of Caleb Sturgis could be devastating. He hit 24-of-28 field goals last season with the three misses coming on blocks. Senior Brad Phillips will get the first shot after missing his only attempt last year from 24 yards out against Missouri. He doesn't have Sturgis's range, and he'll be under the microscope from the start. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin was a good prospect last season and should soon take over. The Atlanta native is ultra-reliable inside 50 yards, and has just enough range to be tried out from deep.
Junior punter Kyle Christy is back after a special season, averaging a whopping 45.8 yards per kick with 27 put inside the 20. For a team that relies on field position and keeping teams pinned deep, he's perfect. He's great at bailing the team out of big jams with a huge leg.
Corner Marcus Roberson will handle the punt return duties, taking over for Andre Debose, who averaged 9.3 yards per try. On his two attempts, Roberson wasn't bad averaging 40.5 yards per pop with a 31-yarder against Jacksonville State and a 50-yarder against Florida State. Debose will work on kickoff returns again after a special year, averaging 28.3 yards per try with a score. Loucheiz Purifoy did his part averaging 23.9 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For … Roberson. When he got his chances, he made magical things happen on punt returns. Debose could be in the mix again, too, but Roberson will be better.
Strength: The punting game. Christy has been great over his last two seasons and was phenomenal last year. Put him front and center in the hunt for the Ray Guy Award. The return game is special, too.
Weakness: Caleb Sturgis. In a lot of ways, he was one of the key pieces of the puzzle last season with his deep leg and consistency. It's asking a lot for Phillips or Hardin to step in and be close to as good.
Outlook: Arguably the best special teams in America in all phases, everything is in place to be just as good again this year – except for the placekicking. Forget about replacing Sturgis, but the Gators will have a major advantage in most of the other areas.
Unit Rating: 8
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