2007 Florida Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Florida Gator Defense

Florida Gators

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Florida Preview | 2007 Florida Offense Preview
2007 Florida Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Florida Preview 

What you need to know:
This is what's called giving Florida the benefit of the doubt. Anyone else replacing nine starters, needing a slew of true freshman to play big roles right away, and/or had the issues the Gators have on the line and at corner, would be instantly dismissed from any SEC East title talk much less the national championship discussion. The recruiting classes have brought in a ton of ultra-fast, ultra-athletic player for the back seven, but there isn't enough size up front, or developed depth anywhere, to hope for any sort of consistency. No, things won't fall off the map after finishing sixth in the nation in scoring and total defense, but there will be some major growing pains to fight through.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tony Joiner, 59
Sacks: Derrick Harvey, 22
Interceptions: Tony Joiner, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Derrick Harvey
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior NT Javier Estopinan
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Jermaine Cunningham
Best pro prospect: Harvey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harvey, 2) SS Tony Joiner 3) Cunningham
Strength of the defense: Defensive end, speed
Weakness of the defense:
Depth, experience, tackle size, corner

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line, like the rest of the defense, needs to be rebuilt, but it has a star returning in junior Derrick Harvey, an All-America caliber end who'll soon be very rich playing at the next level. He's not huge at 245 pounds, but he has room to still get a little bigger with a lanky 6-4 frame. He only made 35 tackles, but he was a blur into the backfield making 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss highlighted by a three-sack, one forced fumble performance against Ohio State. After splitting time last year with Ray McDonald, he took over the job full-time and now is the one the line will build around once he's back and healthy after suffering a hernia in spring ball.

On the other side, taking over for Jarvis Moss, will be sophomore Jermaine Cunningham, who made two tackles in a reserve role. He couldn't be stopped in the spring game cranking out three sacks, and appears to be ready to shine with all the attention paid to Harvey. While not all that big at 6-3 and 230 pounds, he's too quick for most tackles and could be a pass rushing specialist.

The tackles are a big concern after losing Ray McDonald, Joe Cohen and Steven Harris. All eyes will be on 6-1, 270-pound junior Javier Estopinan, who finally appears to be healthy after missing all of most of last year with a knee injury and all of 2005 with a leg problem. While he's a strong, quick interior presence, he has to show he can hold up.

Next to him will be senior Clint McMillan ... maybe. A great player in spring ball last year, he did next to nothing, with just two tackles and a sack, having a hard time cracking the rotation. Now he had another great spring, but is he ready to be a regular starter? He hasn't shown anything so far, and at only 6-1 and 275 pounds, he'll have to be part of a rotation.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing McMillan will be senior Lutrell Alford adding more size with a 306-pound body to add in the middle. He has mostly seen mop-up time over the last two years with six total tackles, but with his bulk, he needs to be a factor.

Backing up Estopinan, and needing to be ready to step in and start, is sophomore Brandon Antwine. At only 5-11 and 265 pounds, he's way too small to be a regular on the nose, so he'll have to be part of a rotation.

Also potentially playing tackle will be redshirt freshman Lawrence Marsh, a 284-pound end behind Harvey who has too much size not to be moved around. He's a great athlete for his size and needs to quickly become a playmaker.

Adding even more size will be 6-2, 275-pound redshirt freshman Trent Pupello, who'll play behind Cunningham on the end. A top tight end in high school, he's a great athlete for his size and should grow into a role in the rotation.

Watch Out For ... Harvey to struggle for a little while as the main man until Cunningham grows into a role. There's no help around him to take the heat off, at least no one who'll keep defensive coordinators awake at night.
Quickness. It's Florida, so there are athletes up front who can move. All four spots should be able to get into the backfield and generate a good pass rush, however ...
Where's the beef? Being quick and athletic is nice, but the Gators could desperately use a 295-pound terror of a tackle to eat everything up and serve as an anchor. It's asking a lot for true freshmen Torrey Davis and Carlos Dunlap to be stars from day one.
Outlook: Yeah, sound the panic alarm. The Gators are banking on one tackle who hasn't had any injury luck (Estopinan), and another who has potential, but hasn't been able to do anything in three years (McMillan). The key will be a rotation on the inside with everyone but Albert and Alberta seeing time. If Cunningham really is the force he appeared to be this spring, the ends will be fine.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: The emergence of sophomore Brandon Spikes in the middle might be the key to the season. He had a nice freshman year as a reserve making 15 tackles, and now he'll have to take over for Brandon Siler and be a sideline-to-sideline playmaker to clean everything up the shaky tackles will miss. At 6-3 and 241 pounds, he has good size and excellent strength with the physical ability of a defensive end.

Replacing leading tackler Earl Everett on the weakside will be 219-pound sophomore Dustin Doe, who saw plenty of time last year making 22 tackles and a tackle for loss. With tremendous athleticism, he'll be a disruptive force right off the bat and one of the team's leading tacklers. He'll be in on just about every play, but he'll have to prove he can be a factor against the pass, and he'll have to keep his nose clean after being charged with fighting.

The defense will rely on redshirt freshman A.J. Jones to take over for Brian Crum on the strongside. A sure-tackler, at least in practice, he'll have to play much bigger than his 6-1, 206-pound size against stronger running teams. While he's more suited for the weakside, he can fly and will be a major pass rusher when allowed to blitz.

Projected Top Reserves: At the moment, the backups are Ryan Stamper, and Ryan Stamper. The only reserve listed on the depth chart, the 6-1, 227-pound sophomore will see time in the rotation behind Spikes. He only saw time in two games making four tackles, and now he'll have to be a star right away.

True freshman Lorenzo Edwards, originally considered a safety, needs to be a playmaker right off the bat at one of the linebacker spots. He's a pure weakside linebacker who might start if Doe isn't done with his legal issues and his team suspension. With his 221-pound size and ability to cover anyone out of the backfield, he'll be a good one.

Watch Out For ... not as much of a drop-off as you might think. Fine, so Siler, Everett and Crum were all NFL caliber linebackers who were a key piece for a national title time, but as odd as this might sound, they're replaceable at a place like Florida, which has become an underrated linebacker factory. 
Raw speed. Last year's starting three could move, Jones, Spikes and Doe can really fly. Edwards brings jaw-dropping speed.
Experience. There's almost no starting experience among the starting three, and the backup situation is an absolute nightmare. If there are injuries or issues of any kind, there will be HUGE problems.
Outlook: The tackles will be there, as will the overall stats, but it'll take a little while before the starting unit becomes special. It'll happen, and there's a lot of talent here to get excited about, but the hope will be for things to come together much sooner than later. Tennessee comes to town September 15th.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Three starters have to be replaced, but the one returning starter is a good one. Senior strong safety Tony Joiner was third on the team making 59 tackles with two interceptions and six broken up passes, but he was overshadowed by the other stars in the secondary. Fast enough to play free safety if needed, he'll have to use his range to be all over the field cleaning up everyone else's mess.

In plays of Reggie Nelson at free safety will be senior Kyle Jackson, a solid veteran who got bumped out of the rotation last year after making 58 tackles in 2004 and 2005. Mostly a special teamer last year, making 11 tackles, he won't be Nelson, but he'll be steady.

The corners are the bigger issue, hoping desperately for former running back Markus Manson and sophomore Markihe Anderson to be ready to fill the shoes of Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis. Manson, a junior, ran for 365 yards and two touchdowns in 2005, but was out of the loop last year with only four carries for 15 yards. He's not polished, but he has the speed and quickness to hold his own against mediocre receivers. Anderson is a rising star and a lock to hold down one of the jobs. Cut-on-a-dime quick, he's the type of defender who can become a true number one with a little bit of work.

Projected Top Reserves: Manson might quickly be replaced in the starting lineup by any one of a slew of good prospects. True freshman Joe Haden was a star dual-threat Maryland high school quarterback with warp speed and NFL athleticism. He'll make several big mistakes, but he's too talented to keep off the field for long.

Sophomore Wondy Pierre-Louis will back up Manson at one corner after being a star on special teams last year. At 6-1 and 184 pounds, he has good size and should grow into a regular in the rotation and as a nickel back.

Looking for time at either safety spot will be 5-11 200-pound sophomore Dorian Munroe, who has the speed for free safety and the toughness to start at strong safety. He has far greater upside than Jackson at free safety, but he'll likely start out playing behind Joiner, while redshirt freshman Bryan Thomas will see time sooner than later. He'll eventually be a star of the secondary.

Watch Out For ... the youngsters. While Jackson is fine and Manson has game experience (on offense), the secondary will look vastly different at the end of the year than it will in the beginning.
Athleticism. This if Florida. Lose NFL speed and quickness, bring in more NFL speed and quickness. There might not be a whole bunch of experience, but everyone can run.
Cornerback. Anderson will be a good one, but if Manson is manning one side for any appreciable length of time, there will be problems.
Outlook: The secondary might be the team's biggest problem early on. There's undeniable talent, but there's a lot of growing up to do and a lot of work needing to be done to find the right combination. On the plus side, there are plenty of options at each spot, and the tremendous coaching will speed up the development. Eventually, things will be fine, but this won't be the nation's number four pass efficiency defense again.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: That Florida won a national title and got through the SEC with just loss with such a putrid kicking game was amazing. Chris Hetland is gone, with junior Jonathan Phillips and senior Joey Ijjas will battle for the placekicking job. Both have more range than Hetland, and while neither was impressive in spring ball, it won't take much to hit more than six of 15 field goal attempts. Try to replace Eric Wilbur, who had a tremendous year averaging 42.3 yards per kick with 22 put inside the 20, will be sophomore Bobby Kane, at least early on until freshman Chas Henry is ready.

Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be a problem yet again, and this time, it'll prove costly. The Gators won both tight games last year (Tennessee and South Carolina) that were decided by one point. Inconsistency will be an issue.
Big legs. Phillips has range, and Kane, while he isn't Wilbur, has a little bit of blast. Henry's a bomber.
Experience. There isn't any. The kicking game is starting from scratch. Also, the kickoff return game has to be night-and-day better after averaging 17.5 yards per try last season.
Outlook: Brandon James is a good punt returner who'll eventually do more in kick returns. The kicking game won't be worse than last year, but it'll hardly a strength, while Wilbur will be sorely missed unless Henry is the real deal right away.


Related Stories
2007 Florida Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Florida Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Florida Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007

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