Preview 2007 - Defense
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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.
Derrick Harvey, 22
Interceptions: Tony Joiner, 2
Star of the defense: Junior DE Derrick Harvey
Depth, experience, tackle size, corner
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior NT
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:
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.
Strength: 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 ...
Weakness: 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.
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
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
Strength: Raw speed. Last year's starting three could
move, Jones, Spikes and Doe can really fly. Edwards
brings jaw-dropping speed.
Weakness: 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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
Strength: Big legs. Phillips has range, and Kane, while
he isn't Wilbur, has a little bit of blast. Henry's a bomber.
Weakness: 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
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