1st Quarter Grades: Defense & Special Teams

The Florida defense had a bunch of holes to fill from a year ago and had some questions about just how well they were going to be able to step up and make some plays in 2011. Through the first quarter of the season, the defense has done pretty well, but there is still room for improvement. With special teams, the group has already proven to be one of the best in the SEC and things look bright.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (B+) what we have seen from the Florida defensive line is an absolute ambush on each opponent's running game so far and then at least a little more pressure up front with regards to the quarterback. The Gators are tops in the country and only allowing 30 yards a game on the ground. The bigger linemen up front have certainly helped in that regard, the fact they may be quicker across the line at every position over last year doesn't hurt either. I think the rush defense only improves with the return of Sharrif Floyd.

The only thing that doesn't give this group an (A) is their low number of sacks on the season after only garnering five in three games. The gators had the most in their last game, but Tennessee's Tyler Bray threw the ball 48 times in the game. In their defense, most of the throws this season have been really quick ones because of the threat of pressure. They are getting pressure, but a few more sacks and hits on the quarterback improves the grade up front.

-----Depth: (A-) Omar Hunter started a year ago and he isn't playing worse than a year ago, actually better. William Green is playing his best football and likely will get some more starts before this season is over after starting the first two in Floyd's absence. Leon Orr hasn't played much but has done some things when given a chance. I like Kedric Johnson as well and believe he can be a player down the road for the Gators.

LINEBACKER: (A) the three starters are playing great football. I think Jon Bostic is certainly playing his best football of his career and seems to be calling a great game as the ring leader of the defense. With a few catches of the dropped interceptions, Jelani Jenkins would likely have earned All-American status by now. I know those catches are coming. Lerentee McCray has played in the backfield rushing the quarterback, he's tackled ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage and he has broken up passes 20 yards down field. The most unheralded of the group is also playing very well.

-----Depth: (C+) had they played in the last game this grade might be higher. Dee Finley was out with a suspension and Michael Taylor was out, well I guess because they played a passing team. Both guys have played fairly well when in the games that we have seen them, but the Gators could use another linebacker or two that can contribute.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: (B-) they have only allowed three touchdowns through the air in three games, with a really good passing offense garnering all three in a game that became pass happy. They had a chance keep all three touchdowns out of the end zone if they just followed through with interceptions that they could have or should have caught.

Matt Elam is doing a good job of communicating things to his guys, but I would like to see a little better reaction from Elam on some deep throws. I think he and Pop Saunders are really better in nickel coverage right now than as deep safeties.

The corners are aggressive and they paid for that on Saturday with fouls, but them being so young and having so many chances to be out of position to make a play and they weren't is such a good sign for things to come. If I was going to give a grade for the future, this would be an (A+) in my opinion.

-----Depth: (B) Josh Evans plays a lot and has played some good ball at safety. Jaylen Watkins played corner a good bit in the second half last week and seemed to play well. Loucheiz Purifoy is another corner really making strides and starting to see some action as well. I like the group and it is extremely fast.

SPECIAL TEAMS: (A) they have been dominant in my opinion. Covering kickoffs or kicking them out of bounds. Two punt blocks. Excellent returns on kickoffs and there hasn't been a bad punt return yet as well. Caleb Sturgis is nine for nine on the season kicking field goals and hasn't missed an extra point as well. Punting needs consistency, but there have been a total of six in three games and by the way, the two punts a game are tied for the lowest in the country.

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