Despite the usual notion for a coach to play older guys, Dan Quinn and the defensive staff instead are absolutely determined to put the best players on the field regardless of age or experience. He also understands the importance of the week of practice to sharpen up the guys that are the most ready to play.
"With every position when you have young guys, we are looking for that experience," Quinn said trying to explain that the talented players in Florida's secondary will never get the experience they need if they don't play. "I think it is important for the young guys or veteran players… that week is important. Let's come out and have sharp practices. I don't buy into if they are young or not, these guys need to play and we are really looking forward to playing these guys."
For such a young group Quinn is encouraged by the way they wrap up when they get to the ball carrier.
"I didn't think there were a lot of missed tackles out there," he said. "For the first time out and first ball game, as a defensive coach that is something you are always looking to see, are they tackling and finishing off plays. I was encouraged by some of that."
As head coach Will Muschamp said earlier in the week, if there was a disappointing part of the game for this defense, it was the fact that there were no turnovers. In fact, Quinn took it a step further and was disappointed at the lack of tries at forcing turnovers.
"It's a topic that I feel so strongly about and that is just taking the ball away," he said. "I thought we could have more attempts on the ball in something we call 'rips and strips' where sometimes we may just be digging at the ball and you don't get it but you see a guy really rip the arm out but you don't get it. A strip is where the ball actually comes out. In a good game when we are getting a lot of attempts at the ball I would like to see (those) numbers drastically increase."
There is an art and a will to getting turnovers and seeking out those most vulnerable to them. This is something they have been busy teaching. "We really think there are some unique ways that if we see on film that maybe a ball carrier carries it loosely, we may target that guy,"
Quinn said. "If he's in the pile and carries it loose, the second or third guy in, let's make sure you go after the ball. We feel like in the run game it is something we can do better."
Quinn and the staff were able to point out times when the players missed a chance at forcing a turnover.
"I saw some opportunities," he said. "We call them "missed ops". That would be an example of where they could have had a rip right there. That is a way we could chart some improvement there. "(Turnovers) It is such a huge stat. it is something that Will and I strongly believe in and Charlie (Weis) too in terms of ball security. For all of us involved, the whole team, we (put) a real big emphasis on it."
Overall Quinn was happy with the pressure on the quarterbacks that FAU put on the field. Still, there were moments that he saw that can be tweaked to ramp up that pressure, without really worrying about sacking the quarterback.
"We affected the QB some, we had some pressure," Quinn said. "We had a couple of missed ops for some bigger plays on the QB. We let him scramble out twice and that is part of the pass rush too, where we had one rusher too high and one too low and created an escape link for the QB inside. Sometimes just trapping the QB in the pocket where he will feel uncomfortable back there. That is some of the things we look for."
There was quite a bit of pressure up front that we didn't see from the line a year ago, especially in the middle. Quinn said the play of senior Jay Howard, junior Omar Hunter, and sophomore Dominique Easley was pretty big Saturday.
"Dominique had a really good camp and he is kind of playing our three or tackle position where sometimes he lines up all the way on the tackle and sometimes he lines up inside," Quinn started.
"I think all three of the guys have a lot of value because they can play more than one spot I think that is important because in this league it is really hard to play two guys on every down. We have a lot of trust in Omar, Jaye, and Dominique and all three of them have huge roles."
Junior Earl Okine is a guy that is coming on strong. Mired at the bottom of the depth chart for a few years, Quinn says Okine may have a niche with this defense moving forward.
"We play a lot of the guys in two spots," Quinn said. "Earl has been a guy that has played at defensive end and defensive tackle. As a tall guy he has length. Sometimes as a defensive lineman, specifically a two gap defensive linemen, you look for a guy that has length that can keep blockers off of him. Earl is a tall guy and played with good effort. We feel like he is kind of developing into the system here to playing the 3-4 and 4-3. He has the size and length to be what we are looking for in a two-gap six-technique defensive end."
Florida got excellent play from its starting linebacker group of Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, and Lerentee McCray. All three made big plays in the game and showed why they should be out there. However, there were some guys behind them that also played well and are starting to earn the trust of the staff.
"I thought Dee Finley did some good things," Quinn said. "I always have liked the energy he brings to the field. Michael Taylor is a guy that can provide some versatility. He can play in the regular package and play in the nickel package. I think he has good instincts. He is a player we are hoping to develop."
One of the safety spots has been a concern for most of camp and in the end the position was won by a freshman. Pop Saunders started his first game of his college career and showed exactly what the staff is talking about when they say they are willing to play any player regardless of experience or age.
"There is a lot of communication that goes on there," he said of the safety spot that Saunders manned. "When we play those guys we have a high level of confidence in them. If they are going to go in there, they are going to have to communicate, run the package, and do it right. Otherwise, we wouldn't put them out there. Although they are young, we have a lot of confidence in them.
"(Saunders) has played corner, safety, and nickel for us. Going through spring practice made a huge difference. He had more of a chance to learn the defense and had more reps at it. I am very encouraged… anytime you have a safety that has corner cover skills, that's really what you are looking for."
The other true freshman in the starting secondary was cornerback Marcus Roberson. Quinn loves the skill set that Roberson brings to the table.
"When you look at a corner, a guy with speed and length and some cover ability that gives you traits to be a good corner," Quinn said. "Then when you have that and I think he has some football savvy to him, which I like as a young guy, I think he has a chance to be a really good player."
Holding it all together in the back end is Matt Elam, who is just a true sophomore but had a great deal of experience in his first year on campus in 2010. Quinn pointed out Elam among others that hand standout games last week and have played well this fall.
"Matt Elam, although he is a sophomore, we think he is like our biggest vet back there," Quinn said of Elam's experience. "I think he has some traits to be a really talented safety. I have always loved the competitive fire in Cody Riggs. Josh Evans is another one that has terrific size and speed, so I am hoping he can pull through and do some stuff. One guy that has really come on, he changed positions during training camp is Pop Saunders. From playing corner, safety, and nickel, he has done a good job."