Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The defense had to all but start from scratch two years ago with
nine new starters thrown into the fire. After a fantastic year
when everyone seemed to grow up at once, this should be a brick
wall of a D with 11 starters back, all the top reserves
returning, and enough overall talent to keep the NFL stocked for
years. The stars are at linebacker where Brandon Spikes should
be off to the big league with tens of millions in his back
account. The ends, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap, will
be ten-year NFL starters while the tackles should have a
tremendous rotation. Corner Joe Haden makes a ton of tackles and
can lock down on any receiver, while the safeties are
ball-hawkers who make every play possible. The overall stats
might not be quite as good as last year, mainly because teams
will put up garbage-time numbers in blowouts, but the defense
will be better.
Brandon Spikes, 93
Sacks: Carlos Dunlap, 9.5
Interceptions: Ahmad Black, 7
the defense: Senior LB Brandon Spikes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Will Hill
Best pro prospect: Spikes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spikes, 2) DE Jermaine
Cunningham 3) CB Joe Haden
Strength of the defense: Experience, Talent
Weakness of the defense: Tackles For Loss, Ridiculously
It was a bit of a stunner that
Jermaine Cunningham came back for his senior
year, but the 6-3, 252-pound senior is back and should be on the
short list of All-Americans after making 52 tackles with six
sacks and ten tackles for loss. He was even better this spring
showing off even more quickness on the outside and even better
toughness against the run. He's an all-around playmaker in a
salary drive; he should come up with a huge season considering
there are other players up front to worry about, too.
6-6, 290-pound junior Carlos Dunlap is more
like a big tackle than a true end, but he's a serious force no
matter what his body type. While he wasn't an every game
starter, he was a big-time situational pass rusher making a
team-leading 9.5 sacks with 13.5 tackles for loss, to go along
with 39 tackles. An ideal 3-4 end who'll make millions at the
next level, he'll have to get over an abdominal injury to be the
game-changer on the other side of Cunningham. The Defensive MVP
of the national championship, he makes things happen both on
defense and on special teams. He's great at getting enough of a
push to block kicks.
Unsung on the inside, 6-2, 309-pound
junior Terron Sanders isn't special on the
inside, but he's a good brick wall as a strong tackle making 21
tackles with four tackles for loss. A starter in 12 games last
year, he stepped up and was fantastic in some of the biggest
games playing well against Georgia and dominating at times
against LSU. Banged up throughout the offseason, he'll be back
as a key piece of the puzzle switching back and forth between
the nose and at tackle.
6-5, 304-pound junior
Lawrence Marsh is back on the nose after starting 13
games last year. A great interior pass rusher for his size, he
came up with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss to go along
with 28 tackles. Hurt in spring ball, he'll have to come back
and be better to hold off a few great young tackle options.
Marsh is strong and experienced, but it wouldn't be a bad thing
if he was used more in a rotation to allow him to have more
burst on passing downs.
Projected Top Reserves: Omar Hunter
was one of the team's top recruits going into last
year, and while he was originally considered an option as a true
freshman, he ended up seeing minimal time to preserve the
redshirt status. The 6-0, 309-pound superstar prospect led his
high school team to a Georgia state title and appears ready to
become a star after dropping weight, getting in better shape,
and providing the bulk to be a perfect-sized nose tackle option
and a quick player at the other tackle spot.
Justin Trattou is one of the team's most
versatile defensive linemen and ended up starting most of last
year finishing with 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks with four tackles
for loss. While he's not a superior pass rusher, he's a nice
all-around player who'll now likely work behind Dunlap on one
end. At 6-3 and 264 pounds, he's built to play end but is tough
enough to see time at tackle if needed. He's a great athlete who
would be a superstar just about anywhere else.
the rotation at one tackle spot, likely on the nose, will be
Jaye Howard, a 6-3, 305-pound sophomore who can
also work as a big end in the 3-4. He didn't see too much action
in his first year, but he was able to come up with eight tackles
with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up over the
last year and turned out to be one of the stars of the
offseason. While he's not quite there yet, he'll eventually bee
an all-star with too much quickness for most interior offensive
Junior Duke Lemmens was a big
factor this offseason seeing plenty of time with the first
teamers on the end after making seven tackles and two sacks in a
reserve role. The 6-4, 260-pounder will be the main reserve
behind Jermaine Cunningham and should be better against the run
after bulking up over the last year. He's always going 100 miles
per hour and he'll make things happen on want-to.
Watch Out For ... Hunter. Sanders and Marsh are
good, but Hunter has it. He's the type of tackle talent
to revolve an entire defensive front around, and while Florida
won't have to do that, he has the potential to be a superstar
sooner than later.
Strength: Size. There's NFL size at all four spots and
next-level talent on the outside. Having a 290-pounder in Dunlap
at one end makes it like having three tackles in against the
run, and everyone can get to the quarterback.
Weakness: Tackles for loss. It's not always Florida's
M.O. to attack and send everyone into the backfield, but there
could stand to be more tackles for loss. The sacks will be
there, and now there should be more plays behind the line after
the Gators came up with 72 (finishing well below the national
Outlook: Cunningham and Marsh belong in the NFL
right now, Sanders and Marsh are tough, talented veterans, and
Hunter and Howard might be even better for the interior. While
there could be more of a pass rush and there could be a few more
big plays, no one's running on this very deep, very talented
USC safety Taylor Mays is
probably the nation's best defensive player. Gator middle
linebacker Brandon Spikes might be No. 1A. In a
total shocker, he chose to come back for his senior season
rather than be a sure-thing top 15 pick in the NFL Draft after
making 93 tackles with eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and
four interceptions. At 6-3 and 258 pounds he has prototype size,
tremendous burst and quickness, and the smarts to always be in
the right position. He can play on the outside or could be used
as a smallish, pass rushing end, but he's the man in the middle
who cleans everything up that the rest of the linebacking corps
doesn't get to. Beyond all the tools, he's the ultimate leader.
While everyone can't stop writing love letters about how Tim
Tebow wills his team to wins and about what kind of a leader he
is, Spikes does every bit as much for the defense. Florida might
be Tebow's team, but this is sure as shoot Spikes' defense.
Junior A.J. Jones does a little of
everything well on the strongside. While he's a bit small for
the position at 6-1 and 226 pounds, he's tough and versatile,
able to be used in a variety of ways. He made 35 tackles last
year and just 2.5 tackles for loss, but the coaching staff will
use him more as a pass rusher to utilize his fantastic speed.
While he was supposed to be sent into the backfield on a regular
basis last year, he'll actually do it this year.
Ryan Stamper took over the starting weakside
job over the second half of last year and he doesn't appear
ready to give it up. The 6-2, 235-pound senior can play in the
middle behind Spikes, and will go there if something happens to
the superstar, and he showed last year that he can hold his own
in a bigger role with 45 tackles and a sack. He doesn't make
mistakes, he's always in the right position, and he's versatile
enough to be the starter anywhere he's needed.
Projected Top Reserves: At 6-0 and 231 pounds,
senior Dustin Doe has bulked up a bit to do
more against the run, but while he has the inside line at seeing
starting time again, he'll have to battle hard to get his job
back. He was second on the team in tackles two years ago making
85, but he came up with just 30 last season as he saw his
playing time diminish. While he's a good veteran on the weakside
with tremendous athleticism and big hitting ability, he has to
do more against the pass. But with his quickness, he should be
all over the field.
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 the coaching staff has to
find a spot for him. The 6-2, 236-pound junior has been tried
out at all three linebacker positions and seems to have settled
in on the strongside behind A.J. Jones. Tremendously quick and
with unlimited range, he'll be all over the field whenever he
gets his chance after making 27 stops as a key reserve.
6-2, 221-pound junior Brandon Hicks has seen
starting time on the weakside and can step in and make big plays
whenever needed. He made 34 tackles with two sacks and has been
a great special teamer. He's trying to come back from shoulder
surgery, and while there's plenty of competition for the job.
He'll find a spot somewhere as a key reserve.
Watch Out For ... a major battle for the weakside
job. Stamper will likely get the start, but he also might be
needed as the prime backup in the middle. Doe is pushing hard to
get his starting job back, while Hicks is more than good enough
to hold his own if he gets the job. The defense will get
production out of anyone of the options.
Strength: Depth. Linebacker was a problem two years ago,
it was a plus last season, and now it could be the team's
biggest strength, quarterback included. Spikes is a special
playmaker, who might be the best Florida linebacker ever, while
there are five other defenders in the mix to form a tremendous
rotation and to keep everyone fresh. There's more talent on the
way with freshmen Joe Bostic and Jelani
Jenkins good enough to start for about 100 other teams.
Weakness: The rotation? Fine, so this might be like
trying to find a wrinkle on Angelina Jolie, but the only
concern, if there is one, is that there might not be the same
starting threesome from one game to the next. Spikes is a sure
thing in the middle, and Jones is a lock on the strongside, but
there are so many good defenders that there aren't going to be
room for mistakes. The non-Spikes starters might be looking over
their shoulders if they ever screw up.
Outlook: This group could do more to get into the
backfield, and they could stand to make a few most big plays
against the pass, but that's trying to come up with a negative.
If this isn't the nation's best linebacking corps, it's a close
Not only is Joe Haden
a lock-down defender with warp speed, 5-11, 190-pound
size, and NFL riches in his near future, but he's also one of
the best tackling corners in college football. The junior led
the team with 61 solo stops and was second with 87 tackles to go
along with three interceptions and 12 broken up passes. Thrown
to the wolves as a true freshman, he took his lumps early on but
has matured into a better, tighter pass defender able to make up
for his mistakes with his wheels. Physical, he can lock on to
the bigger receivers and has few problems with the speedier
Working at the other corner spot will once again be
Janoris Jenkins after starting 12 games last
year. The 5-10, 188-pound sophomore had a fantastic first season
making 39 tackles with a sack, three interceptions, and 11
broken up passes. A great recruit, he became just the second
true freshman to start at corner for the Gators. Physical, he's
great at beating up receivers and is fantastic against the quick
5-9, 185-pound junior Ahmad Black
has the speed to play corner and the toughness to be a
rock at strong safety, where he started every game. While he's
not all that big, and he's not built like a prototypical strong
safety, he finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles and led
the way with seven interceptions. He might not be the most
physically gifted or talented defensive back, but he's always
making the right decision and he's always around the ball. Even
with all his picks and all his big plays, he's the plugger in
Junior Major Wright
finished third on the team in tackles with 66 stops with four
interceptions and six broken up passes, but he's going to have
to be really, really good to hold on to his free safety job. He
started every game last year and has been a huge hitter and has
been great against the run. At 6-0 and 204 pounds, he is in the
best shape of his career and should be all over the field doing
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Will
Hill has to find a spot somewhere. The star recruit of
last year made 48 tackles and an interception, but he appeared
to take things to another level in spring ball. using his size
and his limitless range to do things all over the field. At 6-2
and 203 pounds, he's a huge defender who packs a wallop and has
the ability to become a major difference maker, but he has to
find a way to push Major Wright out of the job.
Wondy Pierre-Louis started the first three
games of last year before becoming a key reserve. He finished
with 19 tackles with an interception, and now he'll work at
corner behind Janoris Jenkins. The 6-1, 185-pounder will see
most of his time in nickel and dime packages where he's able to
use his range to free-lance a bit. He's not the type of corner
who can shut down a receiver one-on-one.
suffering a torn ACL is Dorian Munroe, a 5-11,
205-pound senior who was supposed to start at strong safety
before getting hurt. While he's back and can play either safety
spot, he'll see most of his time on special teams. Fantastic
this offseason, he looked like the player he was supposed to be
before the injury, but he's not going to knock Black or Wright
out of starting spots. However, with his speed, he'll be a
5-10, 182-pound senior Markihe
Anderson is over the knee injuries that kept him down
over the last few seasons. With tremendous quickness, he is
great at getting to the ball when it's in the air and could make
for a fantastic nickel or dime back. He'll work behind Joe Haden
and will be a strong special teamer.
Watch Out For ... Hill. Out of all the big-time
recruits brought in last year, Hill might have been the biggest,
and he played like it this offseason. He had a strong first year
as a reserve and he'll provide a stunningly big push for one of
the safety spots. He's way too talented to not be on the field
at all times.
Strength: Depth. The second team would start for most
teams in America and be fantastic. Put Pierre-Louis and Anderson
at corner, and Hill and Munroe at safety, and you'd be just
fine. Of course, the starters are terrific with speed,
experience, and NFL talent across the board.
Weakness: Healthy backups. Everyone is fine at the
moment, but Anderson's knee could be an issue again, Munroe is
coming off a knee problem and there were several big bumps and
bruises across the board this spring. Yes, there's tremendous
depth, but there will be a major problem if Haden goes down.
He's the all-around playmaker the defense can't afford to lose.
Outlook: The secondary took its lumps in a big way
two years ago getting ripped apart by just about everyone who
could throw a forward pass. Last year Florida was third in the
nation in pass efficiency defense and gave up 180 yards per
game, mostly because teams had to bomb away to try to keep up
the pace. This year's secondary is loaded and should be among
the strongestin America, if not the best.
Running back Brandon James
is one of the nation's best all-around return men. He
averaged 23.1 yards per kickoff return, after averaging
28 yards per kickoff return two years ago, and he averaged 14.1
yards per punt return with two touchdowns, after averaging 18.1 yards per
try two years ago. Teams will have to do everything possible to
stay away from him at all costs.
Phillips missed a 42-yard kick against Alabama. That
was it. He nailed his other 12 field goal attempts, and while he
didn't show off great range, with his longest kick coming from
40 yards, but he's ultra-reliable. Sophomore Caleb
Sturgis, who handled kickoffs, has the bigger leg, and
even though he didn't get any attempts, he could get a few
chances on deep balls.
Florida led the SEC and was eighth
in the nation in punting with junior Chas Henry
averaging 43.4 yards per kick with 21 put inside the 20. After
struggling with his boom and blasts two years ago, averaging
just 39.3 yards per kick, he added more pop and was great at
pinning teams deep. His coverage team helped the cause.
Watch Out For ... Sturgis to get a few deep
attempts. Phillips might have a show to boot a 45-yarder, but if
he doesn't hit it, the Gators aren't going to mess with long
kicks or will give Sturgis his chance.
Strength: Productive veterans. Everything worked last
year after special attention was paid to the special teams.
There isn't a major problem in any area except for deep field
goals and at ...
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Florida gave up 21.7 yards
per try two years ago, and was worse last year allowing 22.4
yards per attempt.
Outlook: Phillips nailed 12-of-13 field goals,
Henry averaged 43.4 yards per punt, James averaged 13.8 yards
per punt return and 23.1 yards per kickoff return, and the punt
coverage team allowed 5.6 yards per try. Everyone's back,
meaning it'll be a stunner if the Gators don't have the SEC's
best special teams.