Despite all that should have slowed the defense down last year, the unit ended eighth in the country in total defense. For all of its flaws, the group held its own to be one of the top defenses in the country and the SEC.
Now there's one area left holding them back from being elite.
"I've been talking about it as much as I can," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said after his defense created only 14 turnovers last year. "The players have been doing a good job of it on the field."
Quinn and the Florida defensive staff won't brush it off to luck, but that had something to do with it. Quinn said they chart turnovers as either unconscious effort or conscious effort.
The unconscious effort turnovers are the ones that the defense didn't have much to do with. They come when the quarterback isn't pressured and overthrows his target, throwing the ball right to a member of the defense.
The conscious effort turnovers are the ones the Florida coaches are preaching. They come from a tipped pass, a defensive strip or anything the defender does to create the turnover.
At the start of every defensive meeting, Quinn goes over the turnovers from the previous day in practice. They'll address the number of turnovers forced, whether it's acceptable or not, and how to increase that number.
"I just did it more and try to do it more," Quinn said of pushing for turnovers. "You've heard the saying, ‘you get what you emphasize.' I've tried to hit it as hard as I can and be as consistent as I can. Even if we had a good practice, I still go back to the takeaways and make that the emphasis."
A different look for the Florida defense last year was the added emphasis on strips. In Quinn's time in the NFL, he taught his defense so that the second player to the ball carrier would focus on trying to strip the ball from the offensive player's body. If the first defender to the ball makes the tackle without needing help, it's a good risk for the defense.
"We talk about (the rip) for the second guy in," Quinn said. "What you don't want to do is create a situation where the guy is going for the tackle and just going after the ball. We're a good tackling team and work at that part hard. It's the second guy in, where he's already on the way down, and I'm taking a rip as he's going."
ELAM STARTING TO LEAD: Since he took the job as the defensive coordinator at Florida, Quinn always knew what kind of a player Matt Elam could be. His physical stature and physical play at safety have always made him an imposing threat at the back end of the secondary.Elam's presence is starting to translate from dominant player on the field to leader when the team is outside of the white lines.
"The big thing I've seen with him, on the field and off the field, is he can affect other players with him," Quinn said. "That's the real sign of a leader when you bring people along with you. That's a thing I've noticed with Matt. Guys like Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson tend to gravitate toward Matt because he is a good player. That part is as impressive from a leadership standpoint."
BOSTIC HAS ONE MORE CHANCE: When the Gators went their separate ways after the 2011 season, Quinn and the defensive staff had a gift for the returning players. It was a video for each player they had film of highlighting what the coaching staff believed to be their strengths and weaknesses.At the end of it were three things for each player to work on. They did it again after spring practice came to an end.
The tape on Jon Bostic asked for increased production as an inside blitzer. The Gators want to use him to get after the quarterback in more situations, and to no surprise for the Florida coaching staff, Bostic bettered himself in the offseason.
"He's a conscientious guy," Quinn said. "You see him in the meeting room taking notes. That's one of the things I was pleased about—you saw (Bostic), Evans and Elam taking notes. They knew some of the first calls, but it was nice to see them show to the young players that they'd already played in the defense, but their notebook was out and taking the notes that applied to them. That was a good sign that these guys are dialed in."
Bostic also used the new training from first-year strength and condition coach Jeff Dillman to transform his body. He is stronger and able to shed blocks easier with his improved frame. That also transforms into him being a better blitzer, as the Florida coaches asked him to do.
"There's another component that comes out when you're really strong—there's a confidence level that you have," Quinn said of Bostic's play. "Some of the guys who have gotten stronger, you can see the confidence level where (they're) able to impose (their) will, use (their) strength and say, ‘make them deal with me.' That added confidence on the field is something you look for."