Depth and More Pass Rush Needed

The Florida defense has had a pretty good year so far, outside of two big games. It has been a mixed bag of success leaning to the positive, but there is still room for improvement. Getting a big pass rush, especially from the outside is high on the scale of things to accomplish. Adding depth all the way around is also big for this defense. Like the offense, some young guys will have to step up.

The entire defense is young overall, and that affect the play up front the most. Not only is it a physical game in the trenches, but the mental part of the game is what suffers a lot of times with young guys. Taken to task against Alabama and to a lesser extent against LSU, the Florida front rebounded to play pretty well against a hard rushing Auburn team until late in the game when they finally wore down.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp believes the guys are coming around and there are some playing well in the trenches.

"Defensively, I think we have taken some steps up front and played a little better," he said earlier in the week. "Certainly, Jaye Howard is having a solid senior year, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd, Lerentee McCray, William Green and Omar Hunter. Omar probably played his best game against Auburn. All of those guys have made improvements. We're not where we need to be, but I do feel good about the improvements that we have made in the last three weeks as we head into the last five ball games."

Wanting a pass rush is somewhat deceptive given that in the last three games quarterbacks have averaged less than 20 pass attempts, still when they need it, the rush isn't quite there.

It does seem that William Green and Lerentee McCray have provided more than anyone else when in there and that is where it may have to come from until someone else is developed or recruited to get after the quarterback.

The rush defense got better when the line played their techniques and didn't force themselves into trying to make every play individually. There is a bit of a trust factor when coming to the next level of football from high school and ‘maybe' these guys are starting to learn that trust with each other.

Linebacker play, in this man's opinion, has not been as bad as a lot of people make it sound. They got swallowed up a lot against Alabama and some against LSU, but a majority of that has to be put back on the defensive line for not playing their assignments like we mentioned above. It has improved since the Alabama loss.

The issue at linebacker right now is depth and if Lerentee McCray has to play the BUCK what are they going to do with the SAM position?

"Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins I think have played really good football for us," Muschamp said of his leaders at linebacker. "We need to develop some guys past those two to get more production from that position.

"(Bostic and Jenkins are) two guys that have done a really nice job as far as the transition of the first year. We throw a lot at them as far as checks at the line of scrimmage, and I think both guys have done a nice job of getting us in and out of the right looks."

They have tossed the redshirt of Graham Stewart. Michael Taylor has been inserted at times and played well at times, not so well at others. Darrin Kitchens is an option. Then we have McCray and Ronald Powell is another possibility. They definitely need more numbers and talent at linebacker.

The Gators are getting really nice play out of sophomore safety Matt Elam and solid play from freshman Marcus Roberson who has shown he is not afraid to put his nose in there. They have to grow up in the secondary and that is a process. There is also some feeling out that is going on about who else to play back there.

"I think Matt Elam is having a solid year… I think he's playing very productive for us," Muschamp said. "We moved him into the nickel position for Auburn. I saw a lot of the perimeter runs where they were very effective, and we felt like we needed to put him into a point of attack in the game, and he was certainly very effective.

"Marcus Roberson, for a freshman, has played well. He's done some nice things, but, we need to be more productive on the back end. We haven't exactly been tested on the back end. We have played three teams in a row that have run the ball over 40 times – so we haven't exactly been tested on the back end. We need to play better when those opportunities come up. We have to continue to take strides there."

Muschamp made a change at punter against Auburn. He chose to go with an older punter that punted faster to start the season. That may have been a mistake, but a common one for coaches of any experience. Especially when playing teams with special team blocking skills like Alabama and LSU.

"Caleb Sturgis has been outstanding," Muschamp said. "He sprained his leg in the last game, and should be fine for Georgia. He's really been kicking the ball well and kicking off well. I'm very pleased with his progress. Kyle Christy, as you can see, has a talented leg. His operation time is down, but he's a guy that can flip the field for us. We're really pleased with how he punted last week."

Fumbling punts away is something that you just can't practice around. Doing it three or four times in a game is something you may never see again. When it is your best offensive weapon doing it, it is even more perplexing.

"Punt return has not been an issue for us all season until Saturday night," Muschamp said. "We didn't field some punts that we needed to field – you can give Auburn credit for that. Their punter hung the ball up there, but we still need to field the ball. Robert Clark has been a guy that is reliable in what he has done in his time on the field for us – Chris Rainey as well. Andre Debose has done that well at times and Frankie Hammond. We have some other guys that we're going to look at this week as we move forward.

"As far as kickoff returns, both Andre Debose and Jeff Demps have both been really good for us this year as far as getting the ball out and having the opportunity for a big play."

On defense it is a growth process with a sprinkling of depth issues that rears its head. Developing a pass rush and a couple of more linebackers and safeties are a must while the young cornerbacks and defensive line grows up. Maybe the overall good defensive play in the Auburn game means they have gotten over the hump. One can hope.

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