2009 Florida Preview - Defense
Florida LB Brandon Spikes
Florida LB Brandon Spikes
Posted Jun 22, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Florida Gator Defense

Florida Gators

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brandon Spikes, 93
Sacks: Carlos Dunlap, 9.5
Interceptions: Ahmad Black, 7

Star of the defense:
Senior LB Brandon Spikes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Ryan Stamper
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 Unrealistic Expectations

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.

Junior 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.

Working in 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 linemen.

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. 
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.
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 average).
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 group.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: 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.

Senior 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.
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.
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 No. 2.
Rating: 10

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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 ones.

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 receivers.

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 the secondary.

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 even more.

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.

Senior 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.

Back after 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 valuable reserve.

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.
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.
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.
Rating: 10

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.

Senior Jonathan 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.
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 ...
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.
Rating: 9