Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know: Florida weathered the storm of last
year when it needed to replace nine starters. The pass defense
was abysmal, and while the run defense was tenth in the nation
and first in the SEC, that's partly because everyone was
stretching out the passing game legs on the green secondary. Now
the defensive backfield should be far better as corners Wondy
Pierre-Louis and Joe Haden should be much better, and FS Major
Wright could grow into an all-star. The problem is the secondary
depth; there isn't much, especially at safety. That, along with
the potential for disaster at tackle with two true freshmen,
Omar Hunter and Matt Patchan, needing to be stars, could be the
difference between a good season and a potential national
championship. Brandon Spikes leads a tremendous linebacking
corps and the ends, especially rising star Carlos Dunlap, will
Jermaine Cunningham, 6.5
Interceptions: Wondy Pierre-Louis, 2
Star of the defense: Junior LB Brandon Spikes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior NT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Carlos Dunlap
Best pro prospect: Spikes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spikes, 2) DE Jermaine
Cunningham 3) CB Joe Haden
Strength of the defense: Defensive end, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Tackle, safety depth
Projected Starters: While much might be made out
of the loss of Derrick Harvey, the team's leading pass rusher,
his replacement could be even better. 6-6, 290-pound sophomore
Carlos Dunlap went from being a decent reserve making
seven tackles and a sack to a jaw-dropping speed rusher this
off-season. Unstoppable at times in spring ball, he has the
combination of quickness to go along with his size to give the
line a player to revolve the pass rush around. He has NFL
millionaire written all over him if he can keep progressing.
Back on the other side is junior Jermaine Cunningham, a
6-3, 241-pound athlete who took over for Jarvis Moss and
blossomed on the other side of Derrick Harvey making 64 tackles
(tied for fourth most on the team), to go along with 6.5 sacks
and 12 tackles for loss. More than just a pass rushing
specialist, he's an all-around playmaker who was better than
Harvey, but never got the credit or attention. Now he'll have to
prove he can shine with the attention focused on him, but he'll
have Dunlap to help on the other side.
It's not going out on much of a limb to project that Florida's
season will revolve around two true freshman Omar Hunter
on the inside. The 6-0, 322-pound superstar prospect made 93
tackles as a senior as he led his Buford High team to the
Georgia state title. He has the size, the quickness to get into
the backfield, and the bulk the Gator line is missing. The
coaching staff is counting on him to step in and shine from day
one this fall.
6-0, 276-pound JUCO transfer Troy Epps will be pushed
into a starting role of some sort sooner than later. While
Hunter is an ideal nose tackle, that's where Epps might end up
if he doesn't become a backup early on. He got to school early
and showed right away that he's ready to be a regular on the
inside, and while he has tremendous quickness and a great first
step when it comes to getting into the backfield, he's not an
Projected Top Reserves: Just how quickly can
Matt Patchan heal up? The true freshman is listed as the
starting tackle, but he has to recover from a gunshot wound to
the shoulder. He was shot while running away from a situation,
and while he's expected to make a full recovery, he'll need some
time to get back to 100%. The 6-6, 238-pounder was a tremendous
high school offensive lineman before switching to the defensive
side this spring. If he's fine, he'll start.
Sophomore Justin Trattou is one of the team's most
versatile defensive linemen having seen time at both end and
tackle as a true freshman. He came up with 20 tackles, 3.5
sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss as he grew into an excellent
all-around defensive force. He'll work behind Dunlap on one
side, but he could be moved to tackle from time to time to
provide a little depth.
Part end and part tackle, the 6-4, 285-pound Lawrence Marsh
played a backup role on the end last season making five
tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. A great athlete for his size,
the sophomore needs to start doing more to provide some help on
the inside. He'll start out on the nose.
Watch Out For ... Dunlap. Florida always finds
talented ends, but the combination of size and speed makes
Dunlap special. He could be the SEC's breakout player of the
Strength: Ends. Is it possible for the line to be even
better now even though Harvey is gone? If Cunningham grows into
more of a star and if Dunlap plays as well as expected, yes.
Having a backup like Trattou doesn't hurt.
Weakness: Tackles. It's never, ever a plus, even at a
place like Florida, to count on two true freshmen to start and
play big roles. Hunter didn't even participate in spring ball and
Patchan has bigger problems trying to get over his gunshot
wound. There could be an open casting call for beefy players for
Outlook: The tackles are going to be a major
concern. Sound familiar? That was the same issue going into last
year, and Florida finished tenth in the nation and first in the
SEC in run defense. Somehow, someway, everything will be fine,
and if the true freshmen are the real deal, then the line could
actually be one of the team's strengths. Alright, so that's
pushing it, but the production should be there with a little bit
of time. The ends will be terrific; Dunlap and Cunningham will
grow into a special tandem.
Projected Starters: It's salary drive time for
junior Brandon Spikes, one of the five best pro
linebacking prospects in college football and a special
all-around leader for the front seven. The 6-3, 245-pound
tackling machine cleaned up everything for the SEC's top run
defense with 131 stops and a whopping 16.5 tackles for loss.
Always around the ball, he recovered three fumbles and broke up
seven passes. Quick like an outside linebacker with the strength
of a defensive end, he'll do it all.
A spot starter in his first season, sophomore A.J. Jones
will once again main the strongside after making 36 tackles, a
sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. While he's small for the
position at 6-1 and 213 pounds, he's a sure tackles who plays
bigger than his size. With his speed, quickness and athleticism,
he could be a weakside linebacker if needed and will be sent
into the backfield early and often.
6-0, 211-pound junior Dustin Doe has been a regular for
the last three years and finished second on the team with 85
tackles and five tackles for loss. Even though he's not all that
big, he's a good hitter and a phenomenal athlete who flies all
over the field and is in on just about every play. His one
issues is in pass coverage; he didn't do enough when the ball
was in the air.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Ryan Stamper
was one of the team's only reserves worthy of note going into
last season, and he came through making 21 tackles with two
sacks and four tackles for loss playing in the middle behind
Spikes. He has a shoulder problem he needs to get over, but
he'll once again be one of the team's key backups.
Lorenzo Edwards, originally considered a
safety, was expected to see time right away as a true freshman,
but he was able to redshirt and now should be a star for the
next four years. Able to play either outside spot, he's a bigger
option on the strongside than Jones at 6-2 and 234 pounds.
If needed, he has the tremendous quickness to play on the
weakside if needed.
Even though 6-2, 207-pound sophomore Brandon Hicks is
built more like a safety, he's a tough weakside linebacker who
came up with 13 tackles and two broken up passes as a true
freshman. A strong special teamer as well as a good defender, he
was one of the stars of spring ball and will be a strong reserve
Watch Out For ... Hicks and Edwards. It'll be
tough to crack the starting lineup on the outside with Jones and
Doe the established veterans, but there aren't any worries if
there are injury problems. Edwards has all-star written all over
him, while Hicks should be a fantastic all-around playmaker with
more playing time.
Strength: Depth. Considering there was almost no
starting experience whatsoever going into last year, and even
less depth to feel comfortable about, things look positively
wonderful going into this year. While there's a big drop-off in
the middle from Spikes to Stamper, the second team could step in
and the defense would be just fine.
Weakness: Pass coverage. It's hard to complain too much
considering the linebackers had to work so much on stopping the
run last season, but there wasn't nearly enough production
against the pass. With all the speed and athleticism on the
outside, the secondary should get more help.
Outlook: The young, talented group came together
faster than anyone could've hoped for, and now it should be
tremendous. Spikes is an All-American to work around, while
Jones and Doe are underappreciated factors on the outside. The
depth is there to provide even more of a rotation, and the
talent is back to level it was at when Brandon Siler and Earl
Everett where dominating.
Projected Starters: A nightmare throughout last
year, the corner situation should be far, far better with the
emergence of 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Joe Haden as an
improved veteran on one side. Thrown to the wolves as a true
freshman, Haden struggled throughout the year despite leading
the team with 12 broken up passes to go along with an
interception and 63 tackles. A star dual-threat Maryland high
school quarterback with warp speed and NFL upside, he has the
talent to grow into a night-and-day better performer.
On the other side will once again be Wondy Pierre-Louis,
a 6-0, 182-pound junior who was supposed to be the team's nickel
back and ended up starting every game making 30 tackles with two
interceptions and three broken up passes. A phenomenal athlete,
he has the ability to do far more and be more of a shut-down
Another young starter who should be far better in year two is
6-0, 194-pound sophomore free safety Major Wright, who
took over the starting job early last year and finished third on
the team with 67 tackles. While he's a huge hitter and great
against the run, he didn't do enough to help out in pass
coverage and finished with just one interception and two broken
up passes. All he needs is experience. In time, he'll be
Taking over for Tony Joiner at strong safety will be junior
Dorian Munroe after making 28 tackles and breaking up five
passes as a key reserve. While he has the speed to play free
safety, and while he's a bit small at 5-9 and 177 pounds, he's a
smart, fast athlete who has been strong on the special teams.
Projected Top Reserves: Working at corner behind
Haden is 5-10, 176-pound junior Markihe Anderson after
making 14 tackles and a pick as a reserve and spot starter.
Limited by a sprained knee, he wasn't able to help the sinking
ship early in the year. With tremendous quickness and good
upside, he has the potential to blossom into a fantastic man
defender with a little more work.
Looking to make an immediate impact is true freshman Jeremy
Brown playing behind Pierre-Louis. While he's not all that
big at a thin 5-10 and 163 pounds, he's a dangerous all-around
playmaker who was a star receiver as well as a corner. His
blinding quickness should make him an interesting option.
The main safety reserve will be 5-9, 177-pound sophomore
Ahmad Black at strong safety. He saw a little bit of time as
a corner and finished with seven tackles, but he needs to shine
in the rotation early on. If he's not good, there will be some
patching needing to be done with the secondary depth.
Watch Out For ... a vast improvement. It's not
like things can be any worse after finishing last in the SEC in
pass defense. However, that was expected with all the major
replacements needed from the national title team. Haden, Wright
and Pierre-Louis are major-league athletes who now know what
Strength: Cornerback. Yes Haden and Pierre-Louis can
play. They showed off better skills and more ability this
spring, and Anderson is a nice player to fold into the mix.
They'll still give up some big plays, but they should be more
Weakness: Safety depth. Wright and Munroe will be great
against the run and better against the pass, but they need to
stay on the field as long as possible until a few backup options
can come through. At the moment, outside of Black, the depth is
Outlook: While it's convenient to blame the young
secondary for the reason why Florida didn't play for the SEC
title and lost four games, the reality was that the pass defense
was really only a big problem in the loss to Michigan. It wasn't
exactly tight against Georgia, and Auburn's Brandon Cox threw
for 227 yards, but the Gators won most of the games when they
were bombed on. However, the big concern is that things didn't
improve as the season went on. All the new players should've
gotten better, and they didn't. Now the hope is for the strides
made this spring by Haden and Wright to translate into more
production. The depth is a huge issue; it wasn't developed last
Projected Starters: Running back Brandon James
is one of the nation's best all-around return men averaging
28 yards per kickoff return and 18.1 yards per punt return.
Teams will try to stay away from him at all costs.
The kicking game goes from serviceable to interesting with true
freshman Caleb Sturgis taking over for Joey Ijjas, who
hit ten of 15 shots but didn't have much in the way of range.
That's not a problem for the big-legged Sturgis, but he'll have
to prove he can handle the pressure early on. Senior Jonathan
Phillips has been around for a while and could step in if
Sturgis is a disaster.
The Gators had the SEC's best punting game thanks to Chas
Henry, a true sophomore who only average 39.3 yards per
boot, but put 14 kicks inside the 20, force 19 fair catches, and
almost never allowed a return. Only five of his 37 kicks were
Watch Out For ... Sturgis to be a four-year
fixture. He has the talent and the potential to be the best
kicker Florida has had in a long, long time. While he's the
unknown going into the season, if he can just be solid from 35
yards and in and hit the occasional bomb, the coaching staff
will take it. After all, he's a true freshman.
Strength: James. He's one of the nation's most explosive
kick returners and a weapon who always gives the offense good
field position. Only 5-6, he's an annoyingly hard target to find
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. This could change
considering Sturgis has a good leg and should push the ball
deeper than Ijjis did, but the coverage team has to be better
after allowing 21.7 yards per return.
Outlook: The Gators could have the best special
teams in the SEC if Sturgis is decent. Henry is great in his
role and James is special. If Sturgis can just hit 75% of his
field goals, the kicking situation will be the best it's been in
the Meyer era.