Florida Preview 2006 - Defense
Florida Gators
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Florida Gators Preview 2006 - Florida Gator Defense

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Earl Everett, 72
Sacks: 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 Brian Crum
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

Defensive Line
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

Projected Starters
- 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 pick last 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.

Top Backups
- 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

Projected Starters
- 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 weakside.

Top Backups
- 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 off-season.

Defensive Backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 passes
Atkins showed flashes of his potential as a true freshman playing his best game of the year against Florida Stat
e, but he's off the team after some off-the-field issues. His departure leaves a big hole at corner.

Special Teams
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

Projected Starters
- 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.

Related Stories
Florida Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Florida Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Florida Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006

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