2010 Florida Preview – Defense
Florida LB Brandon Hicks
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Florida Gator Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Former Arizona Cardinals secondary coach Teryl Austin will take over the defensive coordinator duties from Charlie Strong, who took off to take over the Louisville head coaching gig, and he has a little bit of work to do. There might not be the star power of last year's defense with LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, S Major Wright, and ends Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are gone, but there's no reason to cry poor for a D that should still be great after finishing fourth in the nation in total and scoring defense, 12th in run defense, and second in pass defense. The excitement surrounds the freshmen with a loaded haul of defensive linemen, led by end Ronald Powell, coming in, and safety Matt Elam in the secondary, but they'll mostly work as key backups. The tackles are loaded with, arguably, the best depth in America, and there are enough solid linebackers to assume the overall production of the last few years won't fall off the map. The corner situation is a wee bit of a concern, and it could actually be a bit of a problem with no sure-thing pass rusher up front to hit the quarterback. Austin will make sure all the speed and athleticism across the defense swarms, is ultra-aggressive, and puts a premium on taking the ball away.
Star of the defense: Senior SS Ahmad Black
Tackles: Ahmad Black, 70
Sacks: Brandon Hicks, 4
Interceptions: A.J. Jones, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior CB Moses Jenkins
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Jelani Jenkins
Best pro prospect: Freshman S Matt Elam
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Black, 2) LB A.J. Jones, 3) CB Janoris Jenkins
Strength of the defense: Tackle, Freshmen
Weakness of the defense: No. 2 Corner, Sure-Thing Pass Rushing End
Projected Starters: A spot starter last year and with 18 starts over the course of his solid career, senior Justin Trattou is more than ready to take over a full time role on one of the ends. The 6-3, 252-pounder was able to move in and out of spots starting at tackle against Troy and in the bowl against Cincinnati, while starting on the end against Kentucky and Alabama finishing with 17 tackles, two sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss including a key 53-yard interception against South Carolina. While he's not a top pass rusher, he's a rock-solid all-around player who has the athleticism and the strength to do a little of everything for the defensive front.
Senior Duke Lemmens has to go from being a nice career backup to a top pass rusher. The 6-3, 253-pounder is as bulked up as he's going to be, but he's not all that huge compared to the usual lot of Gator ends. Always going 100 miles per hour and always working when he gets his chances, he needs to be a regular in the backfield after failing to make a sack or a tackle for loss, while coming up with ten tackles, in his limited role. His worth last year was mostly on special teams, but he's a smart, hard working pass rusher who should be decent, but not spectacular.
While junior Jaye Howard only got four starts last year, making 29 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss, he's the most talented Gator tackle. The 6-3, 295-pounder has gotten better and better over the last few years and is just now starting to reach his potential after bulking up to get to fill out his frame. Extremely quick, he'll be a whale of an NFL 3-4 defensive end, but for now he'll be a key factor on the inside rotation.
6-5, 288-pound Lawrence Marsh was banged up a bit this spring, but he'll still be in the hunt for the starting job come fall. He only made eight tackles with half a sack, but he has 13 career starts of experience and was solid whenever healthy. While his ankle problems will be an ongoing concern, he'll be part of a rotation to limit his workload.
Projected Top Reserves: What, Ronald Powell isn't in the NFL already? One of the nation's top prospects, Powell was the crown jewel in the epic 2010 Gator recruiting class with the talent and potential to be all-timer special. While the Californian is only 6-4 and 250 pounds with room to grow, he's already strong enough to be ready to go from Day One as a pass rushing specialist if not the starter at one end. Extremely athletic with 4.5 speed and a lightning fast burst off the ball, he needs to be the answer to Florida's pass rushing questions.
At 6-1 and 312 pounds, senior Terron Sanders is the biggest option on the inside, but he has to stay healthy. A starter for most of last year, depending on the scheme, he made 19 tackles with two tackles for loss. Stats aren't necessarily relevant for his style as his job is to clog things up and be used like an anchor. He has the body for a run stopping nose tackle getting great leverage on the inside and doing a great job of holding his own.
Sophomore Omar Hunter grew into a starting spot as he started to fulfill his promise as one of the team's top young playmakers. Arguably the team's biggest recruit of 2008 after leading his team to the Georgia state title, he was able to preserve his redshirt season and got stronger and in better shape trying to stay at 307 pounds on his 6-0 frame. While he only made 17 tackles with two tackles for loss, he did a great job at getting leverage on the inside and was great on the nose. He's still improving and isn't a finished product, but he's more than fine as is.
6-2, 311-pound Sharrif Floyd out of Philadelphia was among the team's top recruits and was listed as Scout's No. 1 defensive tackle prospect. Very big, very quick, and very tough, his stock didn't drop a lick even after suffering a torn ACL as a junior. He played through the injury for a while, and now he's healthy and ready to go as an NFL-sized body to work in the tackle rotation.
At 6-5 and 344 pounds, true freshman Leon Orr is a massive, intimidating figure for the inside, and he'll get his chance to be a part of the tackle rotation right away despite having health issues. He's coming off a broken leg, but he's expected to be ready by fall and was able to enroll early and see some practice time in the spring. While he's not an every down tackle, he'll be a rock against the run and has just enough quickness for his size to be a surprising interior pass rusher.
This is an important year for redshirt freshman Kendric Johnson to establish himself with so many young prospects waiting in the wings. The 6-4, 230-pounder was out this spring, but with excellent strength for his size, good speed, and tremendous all-around athleticism, he could quickly find a role in the rotation with Justin Trattou this fall.
Watch Out For … the true freshman. At about 100 other schools the foursome of Powell, Orr, Floyd, and 6-7, 220-pound Lynden Trail would be the starting defensive front. As is, the ones that don't redshirt will be key parts of the puzzle, and if nothing else, they should form the key parts of college football's dominant line by 2013.
Strength: Tackle. It's too deep. Marsh, Hunter, Howard and Sanders are all talented, they're all experienced, and they're all able to start at any time. Throw in the raw bulk of Orr and Floyd from the recruiting class, and the potential is there for the Gator tackles to be the most productive in America.
Weakness: Proven pass rush. Powell might solve this issue in a big hurry, but the loss of Jermaine Cunningham (seven sacks) and Carlos Dunlap (nine sacks) isn't a plus. Trattou and Lemmens are good, sound ends who'll put up some decent stats, but they're not special by Florida standards.
Outlook: Once again the Florida line is deep talented and promising with so much talent for the interior that the coaching staff might want to play around with the idea of using three tackles at times. Outside of the freshmen, the ends might not be flashy, but they're sound veterans who'll be more than fine. Generating more tackles for loss would be nice and finding a pass rushing terror early on is a must, but overall this will be a rock of a defensive front once again.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Projected Starters: The 2010 Gators have some big shoes to fill, and it'll be up to senior Brandon Hicks to try to take over the leadership and playmaking role left by Brandon Spikes in the middle. The 6-2, 228-pound Hicks has all the speed, range, and tackling ability to be an All-SEC star if, and it's a huge if for his size, he can stay healthy. He was great when he got his chances working inside and out starting on the strongside over the final three games of last year finishing with 32 tackles with four sacks and five tackles for loss, and he can be an even bigger playmaker if he stays in the middle.
Senior A.J. Jones might be the team's best linebacker with phenomenal speed and toughness for his size, but the 6-1, 226-pounder suffered a knee injury last year and has to show he can hold up on the strongside. The talented veteran made 37 tackles with three sacks with three interceptions and 4.5 tackles for loss, and he should be the statistical leader of the linebacking corps as long as his knee holds up.
A little bit lost in the shuffle as a true freshman with so many great players seeing time, sophomore Jon Bostic should be ready to shine on the weakside. The 6-1, 236-pounder made 18 tackles as a key reserve and top special teamer, and while he might not be a full-season starter considering the defense will likely go with a rotation, he'll be a top tackler whenever he's on the field.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Jelani Jenkins was one of the team's top recruits last year, but he mainly saw time on special teams making just two tackles. This year he's expected to bust out as one of the team's new defensive stars with the versatility to play any of the three spots and the explosion to be a whale of a pass rusher. The 2007 and 2008 Maryland Player of the Year is only 6-0 and 220 pounds, but he has all the tools and all the athleticism to become special.
At 6-1 and 246 pounds, senior Lorenzo Edwards is one of the team's biggest linebackers and has seen plenty of action over the last three years as a top reserve and special teamer. While he only made 13 tackles with two broken up passes, he should see more action working on the strongside with the potential to work in the middle if needed. Tremendously quick for his size, he could be used like a pass rushing specialist from time to time.
Watch Out For … Jenkins. While he might not be a starter at the opening bell, he's the most versatile linebacker in a group full of versatile linebackers and will eventually see time somewhere. He'll likely start out in the middle, but he was too good and too disruptive this offseason not to see action somewhere.
Strength: Versatility. Don't get hung up on the starting lineup or the depth chart; it's fluid. Just about all the Gator linebackers can play a variety of spots. The defense could use a 3-4 at times just to get all the athleticism at linebacker on the field.
Weakness: Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper. It's not like Florida will be starving at linebacker, and yeah, Spikes was overrated last year, but he was a peerless leader and a tone-setter for the defense. He made 68 tackles while Stamper led the team with 78 stops. Throw in the loss of Dustin Doe, the team's fifth leading tackler, and this might be a bit of a rebuilding year.
Outlook: Florida always has athletes, and there are more than enough talents to come up with a good rotation and a nice combination for a starting threesome. There might be a wee step back taken in overall production, but there aren't any real concerns with Jones a likely all-star on the outside and with the expected emergence of Hicks and Jenkins making a big difference.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: With Joe Haden gone, a new corner has to step up and become the shutdown playmaker who makes teams afraid to throw his way. Junior Janoris Jenkins is a veteran who was fine last season making 38 tackles with two interceptions and six broken up passes, but he regressed a wee bit after a fantastic freshman campaign. There's not questioning the 5-11, 186-pounder's open field tackling ability and ball-hawking potential, but he has to prove he can be a spotlight, No. 1 corner like Haden was, and he has to show he can be consistent to go along with his big-play ability.
6-2, 188-pound senior Moses Jenkins might not be an all-world talent, but he has been around long enough to know what he's doing at right corner. He has the size and tackling skills to be a safety, but he's needed at corner where his speed, size, and athleticism should make him a decent playmaker when teams stay away from Janoris Jenkins. While he only made six tackles last season missing most of the year with a concussion, he's ready to go.
It's not a bad thing when you finish second on the team in tackles and were a slight disappointment, but that's what 2009 was for Ahmad Black , a speedy strong safety who made 70 stops with an interception and five broken up passes after making seven picks and 59 tackles two years ago. While he's only 5-9 and 189 pounds, he's physical for his size, is always around the ball, and is smart enough to always make the right decisions and the right play. He'll be the leader of the secondary.
Is Will Hill ready to play up to his talent and potential? The 6-1, 204-pound junior has a great combination of next-level wheels and good hitting ability, and now he'll have a chance to show off his talent taking over the full-time free safety job from now-Chicago Bear Major Wright. Hill started against Kentucky and Arkansas and finished with 42 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries, but he only broke up one pass and didn't come up with a pick. With his limitless range and upside, he could go from key backup to All-SEC star in a hiccup.
Projected Top Reserves: It'll be a major disappointment if Matt Elam , the star defensive back recruit in the 2010 class, isn't an all-star very, very soon into his Gator career. The 5-10, 199-pounder has all the next-level safety skills with tremendous speed, a knack for coming up with the big play, and great hitting ability. The 2009 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year, and Florida's Mr. Football, is good enough to give Will Hill a hard run for the starting free safety job, but he'll likely spend most of the year starring in a nickel back role where he has the potential to lead the team in interceptions.
6-3, 186-pound freshman Joshua Shaw struggled a bit in spring ball and he has to work on his technique, but it wouldn't be the slightest bit of a shock if he pushed Moses Jenkins out of a starting corner spot. With great length, a long wingspan, and NFL speed, he has all the tools to be an all-star playmaker from the moment he gets on the field. Wanted by all the big boys, the Californian was a great get for the program even though he was a bit overshadowed by other great recruits.
While Jonathan Dowling isn't considered to be the sure-thing superstar safety that Matt Elam is out of this recruiting class, the 6-4, 185-pounder has a great skill set with an uncanny knack for making the big pick at the right time while also possessing solid open-field tackling ability. He might have all-star potential at receiver with his size, physical skills, and body control, but he'll get a long look first in the defensive backfield.
Watch Out For … Elam. The Gators are loaded with all-star prospects, but Elam might make the most immediate impact. The star recruit has the talent to play anywhere in the secondary, but he'll likely start out in five defensive back sets and he should be all over the field as a statistical superstar.
Strength: Safety. The Gators might miss the tackling and leadership of Wright, but Black is a tone-setter and Hill is a burgeoning star. Elam might be better than both of them helping to make the Florida defense solid up the middle.
Weakness: Second corner. Assuming Jenkins is a No. 1 corner, then the No. 2 man will have to come through right away. Jenkins hasn't done it yet, Jeremy Brown has a bad back, and it's asking a lot for a true freshman to shine immediately. Joe Haden, even for Florida, doesn't come around every day.
Outlook: After a nightmare of a 2007 season, the Gator pass defense was fantastic in 2008 and 2009 with one of the stingiest secondaries in America. Joe Haden and Major Wright will be missed, but there's a slew of great freshman to provide quality depth while players like Hill and Jenkins appear ready to step up with more responsibility. This won't be the pass defense of the last few years, but it'll be awfully strong.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Big-legged junior Caleb Sturgis proved he could handle more than just the kickoffs with a strong season hitting 22-of-30 field goals connecting on six from beyond 40 yards. While there were a few misfires, including a 29-yarder against South Carolina and a 20-yarder against LSU, of his eight misses, three were from behind 52 yards. With limitless range, he'll get his chances from deep after hitting from 56 yards out against Georgia and 51 against Arkansas.
Florida finished second in the nation in net punting, and while the coverage team had a lot to do with that, Chas Henry did his part. The senior averaged 43.4 yards per try with 15 put inside the 20 and forcing 12 fair catches. He has a booming leg, but he's better at using it with the coverage team as opponents only ended up returning five punts.
With Brandon James gone, running back-turned-receiver Chris Rainey will get the first look at the kick and punt return jobs. He averaged 28.8 yards per try on his five kickoff returns last year, and he averaged ten yards per pop, with a touchdown, on his four punt returns. If he's healthy, he should be as explosive as James, but he needs to prove he can be as consistent.
Watch Out For … Rainey to shine … if he ends up being the main man. Florida has no shortage of speedsters and quick return options, and several will get a few chances, but Rainey should keep the production rolling for the nation's fifth ranked kickoff return game and add more pop to the punt return game that finished tenth in the SEC.
Strength: Punting. Henry has been among the best in the nation over the last few years, but he suffers from being in the same conference as other tremendous punters (like Georgia's Drew Butler last year). He put 36 inside the 20 over the last two years and he has improved his consistency averaging 43.4 yards per boot over each of the last two seasons.
Weakness: Punt returns. It's not that bad an issue, but after averaging just 7.5 yards per try, there's room to do more. It won't take much to do more, but it would be nice to get to around ten yards per attempt or more.
Outlook: As long as Sturgis is solid and doesn't screw up from close range like he did at times early in the year, the special teams will be fantastic. The punt coverage team is fantastic, the kickoff coverage team is fine, and the kicking game will be solid. The special teams might not be as good as they were last year, but they'll be better than just about everyone else's on the slate.
Unit Rating: 8
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