Fortunately for the Florida Gators, there is much more reason to have great expectations on the other side of the ball. Florida's defense was not bad last year, but should be much better in 2011. In fact Florida has the potential to be stronger at every unit defensively.
Defensive Tackle ---- Florida lost three seniors from this unit, but Brandon Antwine, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders were certainly not major playmakers. The trio combined for just 36 tackles and one QB sack. That's not hard to replace. Jaye Howard and Sharrif Floyd give the Gators a very strong tandem, and they are backed up by Omar Hunter, Leon Orr and Dominique Easley. That group is far more talented than the three guys that left. FAR more.
Defensive End/"Buck" ---- The Gators have to replace a lot more productivity at these spot, but again we're not talking about difference makers. Justin Trattou was tied for third on the team with 57 tackles, but had just two QB sacks. Duke Lemmens added 43 stops and led the Gators with just 4 sacks. I'd bet everything I own that Ronald Powell, William Green, Chris Martin and Lerentee McCray top that number and probably double it. Powell and Martin give UF speed off the edge that will make a world of difference.
"Sam" LB ---- This is one spot where a drop off in productivity is likely. Combining A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks here is a little off-kilter, I admit but it's the only way it works for me. Those two seniors combined for 92 tackles and 4 sacks, though obviously they were both on the field quite a bit. Florida will try to get some big plays from Gerald Christian and Gideon Ajagbe among others. They could also play Green at DE, Powell at "Buck" and Martin at "Sam" if needed.
"Mike" and "Will" LB ---- Giving Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins permanent jobs at these spots will help both guys be even more productive --- and they combined for 133 tackles, eight for loss and for interceptions last year. Jenkins is an All-SEC candidate and Bostic just seems ready for a breakout season. Depth is a bit of a concern, not knowing what to expect from Michael Taylor, Dee Finley and Darren Kitchens though both Taylor and Kitchens impressed in the spring game.
Cornerback ---- Janoris Jenkins was hurt most of last year and was an All-SEC performer at corner assuming he's healthy he'll be one of the best if not THE best in the country. Another year of experience and competition is bound to strengthen the other corner whether it's Jeremy Brown, Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins or Moses Jenkins. Personally I'd most Moses to safety, but they didn't ask. Pop Saunders has really impressed the coaches, but I don't see him starting quickly.
Free Safety ---- Replacing the athletic ability of Will Hill won't be easy. Replacing his productivity won't be hard at all. I was impressed with both Joshes in the spring game --- Shaw and Evans. I think Shaw has a higher ceiling and is more likely to win the job with Evans being the primary back up at both safeties.
Strong Safety ---- Replacing the athletic ability of Ahmad Black will be easy. Replacing his productivity virtually impossible. If there was a ranking for players getting the most out of their ability Black would top it in all of my years covering the Gators. Black had 108 tackles and 5 interceptions last season bringing his career totals to 244 and 13 respectively. Matt Elam is going to be a very good player for the Gators, but I don't know that he'll match those numbers.
By and large the 2011 defense will be much better than the one that allowed 30-plus points to five opponents last season. The biggest improvement should be in the pass rush where Florida managed a meager 21 sacks in 13 games. Improved size and strength at tackle and returning studs at MLB and WLB should make the run defense better too.
Outlook Much Better for 2011 Defense
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