Defensive Keys to the Season

The Florida defense didn't get much help from the other side of the ball in 2011 and still finished number eight nationally in total defense. Being on the field so much because of an inconsistent offense dipped into the reserves of energy a thin group on defense had. The strong showing should only get better with depth and experience, but there are still some keys to make it a better defense.

Here are the keys to a successful season on defense for the Florida Gators.

Find the best BUCK / SAM combo- We knew going into last season that the BUCK position would be important to the Will Muschamp defensive philosophy. A year later, we know it is all about finding that guy that can put some heat on th4e pass rusher. Despite Florida's lofty "total defense" rating, they finished an average 44th in sacks with 28 for the season. Junior BUCK Ronald Powell improved dramatically as the season progressed, and they were counting on the former number one player in the national high school ranks. An ACL tear in the spring game now has Powell coming back sometime in October at the earliest and most likely sometime in November or not at all.

The Gators have to find an answer here and will return to bevy of players to sort it out. Senior Lerentee McCray seems the most likely and he has played well whenever inserted into the game, but he was being counted on to start at the SAM linebacker spot, so his insertion at BUCK is not a sure thing. Other candidates include sophomore Neiron Ball who did not play all of last season due to an illness, but has been a wunderkind behind the scenes and has sculpted his body into a 235 pound looking menace. He has been cleared to play.

Freshman Fowler can be big time

Junior Kedric Johnson has already been on campus for three years and has nothing to show for it. He will certainly get a chance this year with the numbers situation. Freshman Dante Fowler is another that was brought in to compete immediately. He is the type of athlete that can play with his hand down naturally and can run well enough to play in space. Maybe freshman Bryan Cox could be ready to play at the position as well.

The other side of this is the SAM linebacker spot and all of the above could fit in this spot. Then you could throw in the likes of Darrin Kitchens in the mix or a Gideon Ajagbe and the best case scenario they offer some quality depth. DB's must defend the jump balls - The Auburn and Georgia losses could have been avoided if the Florida defensive backs were able to go up for jump balls and come down with it. Florida gave up two fourth down touchdowns to Georgia on jump balls and lost by less than a score. They gave up a jump ball touchdown to Auburn as well and that led to the game getting away.

Florida had four new starters in the secondary and the good thing is, everyone returns from a year ago. The secondary improved as the season went along and they were a good group by the end of the season. Sophomore Marcus Roberson has to get healthy as he is the top corner in the group. Juniors Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs now have a ton of experience and skill coming into year two of the Muschamp regime.

Watkins is one of a few great prosoects at corner with experience now

Sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy had a terrific offseason and a strong bowl game, he will push and has great skills there. Throw in true freshman Brian Poole and the starting season quality of player is head and shoulders from the start of last season. Just go get those jump balls.

Interior pass rush - This would almost always be tops on the list, but with Dominique Easley moving outside and Sharrif Floyd moving inside along with an improving senior in Omar Hunter, I think Florida will really push the pocket this year. Still, they must do it and they will be relying on some new guys without much experience in the SEC to do so. Sophomore Leon Orr and junior college transfer Damien Jacobs will back up the tackle spots and both have been doing good things in the offseason.

Floyd will return to his more natural inside position

HIT - All three starting linebackers at Florida, senior Jon Bostic, junior Jelani Jenkins, and McCray mentioned above are Butkus award candidates and all-SEC candidates. This columnist swore by their play last year while the masses were not happy.

Fans and coaches alike would like to see more thumping from the linebackers like Bostic.

With better play up front, the linebackers should not get eaten up as much by offensive linemen and in turn they should get natural hits on the ball carriers more often. That is something we did not see a lot last year and something that would lead to more turnovers for a unit that finished 112th in the nation with only 14 turnovers on the season. That is the biggest stat on defense from a year ago.

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