Fine Tuning the Defense

Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has to be relatively pleased with his defense this season. Without a lot of help from the offense late in games, the defense hasn't finished strong in those games, but they have played well overall. One area of concern lately is the play of the secondary who seem to be in the right place, but come up just short in making the play when it counts.

Everyone knew this would be a tough year for the Florida secondary. With only sophomores and freshmen and really no starters returning in the back four, there were going to be some rough minutes.

Most that Watch the Gators careful would say the young guys in the back have played like young guys, but have also shown a lot of promise. In recent weeks, the secondary guys almost always seem to be in a spot to make a play, but just can't get over that hump at times to break the pass up or actually intercept the ball.

Dan Quinn says they are working hard to get over that last hurdle of playing in the defensive backfield and secondary coach Travaris Robinson has been working his guys hard.

"I think Travaris has done a terrific job with the guys," Quinn said. "It's a good thing he has the experience of being in that spot so he can walk it and show them how to play it. He has spent some extra time after practice with the guys (every day this week)."

One player that seems to have made great strides recently is sophomore Jaylen Watkins. On four different occasions in Saturday's win over Vanderbilt, Watkins made a good play and was credited with two pass break ups on the stat sheet.

"It was good to see him get some good pass breakups in the game," Quinn said of Watkins. "We feel like at corner, any time you can get a guy with some length and speed, those are things you are looking for. When you play taller receivers you can battle for some of the 50/50 balls. We are encouraged by him and each week it is his technique (improving) and getting stronger. We want to see him develop and he will get some more playing time too."

Up front the gators have done some good things and continue to do so. They certainly are getting more pressure than a year ago, even with a much younger group. However, it is one of the veterans that is playing the best. Senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard has improved a lot since the spring.

"I think at times when we watched him on tape he would stay on a block," Quinn said about Howard who had a hard time disengaging from offensive linemen to make a play. "Now, when you see him throw a guy… that really stands out to me. He's a very heavy handed guy, when he puts his hand on you, you can really feel it."

Quinn, who coached for a dozen years in the NFL, believes the pro scouts are going to have a lot to like about Howard.

"When you are evaluating an interior player, you look for initial quickness and then in the run game you look for if a guy can strike and play square," he said. "The third thing is can he disengage and shed. What he has shown now with playing square at the line of scrimmage, those are the things we have worked on with him."

Quinn believes sophomore Ronald Powell is starting to make strides and really learning the BUCK opposition for this defense. Not knowing what he was doing was an issue early on for the athletically gifted end.

"We've addressed that and since then he has done a good job of doing the things we have asked him to do," Quinn said of Powell. "He is a pretty mature guy. In my dealings with him he is always about ‘how can I get better' or play better."

The Gators linebackers take some heat but have played pretty well this year. Quinn says that Jelani Jenkins will be back after missing part of the Georgia game and all of the Vanderbilt contest. We are still waiting to hear on Lerentee McCray who missed the Vandy game. Michael Taylor got the reps at linebacker with both down and the Gators played nickel meaning only two on the field at a time.

"(Jelani) got some work and did a good job," Quinn said of Wednesday's practice. "Mike Taylor, it will probably be a little less (playin time) because with Jelani out he had a lot of reps. We have been working him in each ball game and in both spots. He backs up Jelani and Jon (Bostic). It is great to see when a guy gets his opportunity it is good to see him come through. Now you can see he is getting some experience where he can go play."

Quinn talked a little more about Taylor's play. "There were some missed tackles that he had, but for his first extended period of play, there were some things that he did a good job with."

It is still status quo for freshman defensive end Lynden Trail who has a long way to go as he still learns to be a college pass rusher.

"We are hoping to develop him, but he hasn't cracked the two-deep," Quinn said. "He is out there practicing and working hard at it. For us inside it is more for us of controlling blocks and being productive… that is where it was coming out of training camp and where it has stayed."

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