What you need to know ...
Most of the publicity will be focused on the offense, but
it'll be the defense that carries the Gators. The front seven
should be terrific as long as injuries don't strike the
linebackers. There are plenty of options on the line with tackle
Marcus Thomas and ends Ray McDonald, Jarvis Moss and Derrick
Harvey all good enough to be in the hunt for all-star honors. If
corners Reggie Lewis holds up, the secondary will
be fine even after losing three starters. Safety Reggie Nelson
is about to emerge as an all-star.
Tackles: Earl Everett,
Jarvis Moss, 7.5
Interceptions: Earl Everett, Kyle Jackson, 2
Star of the defense: Junior LB Brandon Siler
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jon Demps
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Reggie Nelson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Siler, 2) LB Earl
Everett 3) Nelson
Strength of the defense: Defensive end, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Depth at linebacker and cornerback
Can anyone outside of the SEC name a player
on one of the best lines in America? It's an unsung group that has at
least three potential All-SEC talents if everything comes together.
Marcus Thomas decided not to turn pro and should be a terror in the
middle. Jarvis Moss will be a serious threat to set the record as the
school's all-time single season sacker if he sees plenty of one-on-one
coverage. There's more than enough depth to get the type of rotation
that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wants to employ.
The key to the unit: Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris
have to be rocks against the run so Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald, Derrick
Harvey and Darryl Gresham can focus just on rushing the passer.
Defensive Line Rating: 9
- DE Ray McDonald, Sr. - 8 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
One of the team's most talented defensive players at either tackle or
end, McDonald started the first three games of the year on the outside
before getting knocked out with a knee injury. After a few few random
appearances, he then suffered a torn ACL and missed the rest of the
season.. He's 280 pounds and fast enough to be a reliable pass rusher as
long as his legs hold up.
- NT Marcus Thomas, Sr. - 45 tackles, 4 sacks, 10.5 TFL
The Honorable Mention All-SEC performer flirted with the idea of turning
pro early before deciding to come back. A likely early first day draft
year, the 290-pound senior can up his stock with a big season and
showing off even more as an interior pass rusher. He's the leader in the
middle and should be even stronger against the run with the improvement
of the rest of the line around him.
- DT Steven Harris, Sr. - 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL
Harris started every game at tackle and now needs to emerge as more of a
playmaker. He's a quick 6-4, 285-pound former end with enough experience
to be a steadier interior pass rusher.
- DE Jarvis Moss, Jr. - 25 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 11 TFL
Is Moss going to emerge as more than just a devastating situational pass
rusher? He has the speed, the 6-6 frame, and the closing ability to have
a double-digit sack season. So far he has gotten by on pure speed
running as fast as he can into the backfield and usually coming up with
great results. Now he appears on the verge of becoming a stronger all-around defender.
- DE Derrick Harvey, Soph. - 6 tackles
He has million dollar talent and now should be ready to show it off
after being lost in the shuffle as a freshman. The coaching staff will
make a concerted effort to get him into the rotation behind Ray McDonald
to develop into something special. He's by no means a finished product
needing time to work on his technique.
- DT Clint McMillan, Jr. - 3 tackles
A bowling ball of a tackle at 6-1 and 262 pounds, McMillan was
tremendous this spring when he got a chance to show what he can do. He
has strong potential as a pass rusher and his motor is always running.
- DE Darryl Gresham, RFr.
Gresham moves from linebacker to defensive end bringing even more speed
to the outside. He'll combine with Jarvis Moss in a steady rotation and
will be used mostly as a pass rusher.
Brandon Siler and Earl Everett will be one of the SEC's
best 1-2 linebacking punches, and then all bets are off. Brian Crum
looks the part, but has yet to show off any of his skills on a regular
basis. If he doesn't rock on the strongside and if Jon Demps isn't 100%
healthy after seeing his promising true freshman season cut short, there
could be trouble.
The key to the unit: Staying healthy and making more
plays in the backfield.
Linebacker Rating: 8
- Brian Crum, Jr. - 13 tackles, 1 TFL
Crum has to replace Todd McCullough on the strongside; that's shouldn't
be too hard. He's the team's most athletic linebacker, but the light
hasn't gone on yet. He has had some decent moments where he looks like a
potential playmaker, and now he'll have to be consistent.
- Brandon Siler, Jr. - 64 tackles, 4 sacks, 9 TFL, 4 broken up
passes, 7 quarterback hurries
While he didn't dominate like he did as a freshman, Siler still had a
strong sophomore season finishing second on the team in tackles for 141
in his first two seasons. He's a great pass rusher and more than strong
in pass coverage. If he can be a bit more physical against power running
teams, he'll be an All-SEC star.
- Earl Everett, Sr. - 72 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 2
interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Everett is a tackling machine leading the team last year and with 198
stops in his first three seasons. He's the total package with speed,
quickness, and good size at 6-2 and 231 pounds. Now he has to use all of
his skills and all of his experience to make more big plays on the
- Jon Demps, Soph. - 6 tackles
A knee injury kept Demps from what was expected to be a huge true
freshman season. He's a tall, rangy player with the strength to play
inside behind Brandon Siler and the speed to push Brian Crum for a job
on the strongside.
- Ryan Stamper, RFr.
Able to play either outside linebacker position, the 6-1, 228-pound
Stamper will be moved around where needed. He could still stand to get a
bit bigger, but he's stronger after hitting the weights hard this
Things aren't that bad despite losing three very good
starters in Dee Webb, Vernell Brown and
Jarvis Herring. It all starts with the supremely talented Reggie Nelson,
who spent most of last year as a nickel back and made plays all over the
field. He's a next-level talent at either safety position. Tony Joiner
and Kyle Jackson help to solidify a great safety situation. Corner is
another story needing Reggie Lewis to go from being a nice backup to a
reliable number one, and hoping for Tremaine or Jermaine McCollum to be ready to roll on
the other side.
The key to the unit: The corners have to rock-solid
and durable or else true freshmen will have to play key roles.
Secondary Rating: 8
- CB Reggie Lewis, Sr. - 11 tackles, 1 interception, 6
broken up passes, 3 fumble recoveries
The former wide receiver saw a little bit of time as a starter last year
and turned out to be a big-play performer when he was a reserve. His one
interception came to seal the win in the battle with Vanderbilt, and he
returned a blocked field goal for a score against Florida State. He has
to grow into a shutdown corner role on the left side.
- FS Reggie Nelson, Jr. - 46 tackles, 4 sacks, 1interception, 1
broken up pass
The star JUCO transfer turned into one of the team's best all-around
defenders with a tremendous blend of speed and hitting ability. He can
play anywhere in the secondary with strong enough coverage skills to
play corner and the tackling talents to play either safety spot. Free
safety is the best fit since it allows him to roam, but he'll be moved
around where needed.
- SS Tony Joiner, Jr. - 27 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception, 1
broken up pass
It'll be up to Joiner to replace Jarvis Herring, and he should be more
than fine if he plays as well as he did this spring. His emergence
allows Reggie Nelson and Kyle Jackson to spend their time at free
safety. The 208-pound Joiner is a strong hitter with the quickness to
play free safety if needed.
CB Tremaine McCollum, Sr. - 5 tackles
McCollum saw his role diminish into almost nothing after a solid
sophomore season. He's a tough 5-8 and 175 pounds with enough experience
to see far more time this year.
- FS Kyle Jackson, Jr. - 34 tackles, 2 interceptions
A good enough tackler to play strong safety if needed, Jackson is a more
natural free safety. He got the starting not over the first six games
before losing out midway through the year to Tony Joiner and Reggie
Nelson. He's a tough tackler who should play a prominent role as a
nickel back if he doesn't end up starting.
- CB Avery Atkins, Soph. - 9 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up
Atkins showed flashes of his potential as a true freshman playing his
best game of the year against Florida State, but he's off the team after some off-the-field issues.
His departure leaves a big hole at corner.
The kicking game is as good as it gets with PK Chris
Hetland and P Eric Wilbur each good enough to be on All-America short
lists. Finding steady returners will be a work in progress after
mediocre production last season. The coverage units were among the best
in the nation; there's no reason to assume any sort of a dip.
The key to the unit: Hope for similar seasons from
Chris Hetland and Eric Wilbur and get more big plays from the returners.
Special Team Rating: 9
- PK Chris Hetland, Sr. - 13-16 FGs, 38-40 extra points
The former walk-on turned into an All-SEC performer after a great year
showing excellent range connecting ten of 11 shots from beyond 30 yards.
Jonathan Phillips will handle the kickoffs, but Hetland has the leg to
be effective as well.
- P Eric Wilbur, Sr. - 59 punts, 2,459 yds, 41.7 yards per kick,
22 inside the 20
Arguably the best punter in the school's
history, Wilbur will be on the short list for the Ray Guy Award after a
brilliant freshman season. He can do it all from blasting the ball to
pinning teams deep. He worked extremely well with the coverage team
helping the Gators finish ninth in the nation in net punting.