Practice Observations: Defense

Cody Jones and I split up The Swamp on Saturday to try and bring you the best coverage two guys can of your Florida Gators at practice. I stuck with the defensive side while watching from the East stands and Cody was on offense and in the West stands. Here is a look at what I saw on defense with a few nuggets from Cody along the way.

This is not an all inclusive but as much as we could include in each report.

Defensive Line

The starting defensive line for the day with Sharrif Floyd and Lerentee McCray out was Dante Fowler at the BUCK, Damien Jacobs at the 3-technique, Omar Hunter at the Nose, and Dominique Easley at defensive end.

They didn't play a lot of Easley out there as they have done all fall, just to allow more good time for his knee to get stronger, but he looks fine and still has his high motor although I didn't notice too many big plays.

Fightin' Gators' Cody Jones had this to say about Fowler - Dante Fowler was the story of Saturday's practice for me. Muschamp said after practice that the freshman needs to lose some weight, but even if he stays where he is, he plays fast enough to carry it. The team was just in shells on Saturday, but he was close to unblockable at times. He gave senior offensive tackle Xavier Nixon fits off the edge for a good portion of the day. He will be a weapon on the field for the Florida defense this season.

From my perspective, and while Fowler had a great day, he was certainly swallowed up and spit out whole one time during pass rush drills by Nixon. However he has a unique combination of supreme size with great quickness. He isn't settled in at a good weight yet and will lose a little bit as he works it off, but he moves extremely well for his size and as Muschamp reiterated after the practice he is a very powerful guy.

There are some things he will have to grow into as well. Jeff Driskel ended up one on one with Fowler after a bootleg keeper for Driskel. It looked like Fowler had him stopped in his tracks, but he lost containment and Driskel scooted up field. Driskel is a primo athlete and one on one with a lot of folks is going to be hard, still Fowler held his assignment almost enough but not quite.

Redshirt freshman defensive end Evan Holmes was a high school teammate of Fowler at St. Pete Lakewood and he has always looked the part since he was noticed in the spring by fans watching practice and the spring game. Listed at 6-2 and 233 pounds Holmes brings a bit of athleticism for his size. He is quick twitched and just quick overall on the edge and really made Chaz Green look bad on one pass protection attempt during the drill.

Every play I saw from Earl Okine today was on the inside. He is a guy that bounced inside and outside during his career and maybe because Sharrif Floyd was out 3with injury and the numbers were low he was inside, but we will have to see how this one ends up. He did get the best of Jessamen Dunker on one attempt in the pass protection drill.

Jaffar Mann was one of the biggest positive surprises on the day. I watched him on back to back plays in pass protection drills just drive his man back and get to the quarterback really fast. He definitely has some power behind him and can do some things. He is probably not in the best of shape, but he looks like he goes hard and can rework the bad weight he does have right now.

Leon Orr had a decent day. He was in the backfield a lot and he along with Damien Jacobs combined for a sack on freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg. I am still not sure if Orr is quite aggressive or mean enough for the defensive trenches but at least we saw a spark or two from him on Saturday. He got into a yelling match with Sam Robey, which used to be a helmet smacking session with guys like Marcus Thomas.

I really like Jacobs movement inside. He seemed very active and quick. He is down a little bit to about 285 but feels great playing at that weight. He seems to make space for himself even when in the trenches.

Jonathan Bullard has a chance to be special. The kid is 270 pounds but his feet are tremendously quick and he is powerful. He moves laterally with the best of them. He had a little side step move a couple of times in his pass rush where he blew

Despite coming to Florida as a defensive end, Quinteze Williams was working primarily at defensive tackle from what I could see. That doesn't mean he will stay there, but it was where he played on Saturday.

I watched freshman defensive end / BUCK Alex McCalister beat Ian Silberman a couple of times on the outside. The bulked u Silberman is playing tackle and had an issue guarding the very quick McCalister who is probably too light to contribute at this point in his career.


Jelani Jenkins is noticeably bigger/ stronger/ heavier up top and now can actually bull rush some folks. With his speed and agility it is going to make it very hard on a running back to block him in pass rush and Jenkins pretty much had his way with the Gators' best pass blocking running back during pass pro drills. Then Jenkins took his turn with freshman Matt Jones as well, beating him with a little strength and finesse.

Probably the best looking pass rusher among the linebackers was Darrin Kitchens. He absolutely whipped freshman running back Matt Jones who has size and quickness and is decent in protection and then on his next attempt went right by starting fullback Hunter Joyer. Kitchens seems to have an uncanny knack of maneuvering his body to get by a blocker.

You can see the athleticism with freshman linebacker Jeremi Powell, and he has grown a bit since he signed with Florida, but he will have to add some more weight on. Powell got swallowed up in pass rushing drills, even by one guys smaller than him. He is going to have to be more elusive when he meets his blocker at least until he puts more weight and strength on.

Gideon Ajagbe struggled in pass rush drills and when providing a pass rush. He isn't as aggressive and forceful as you would want for a guy his size and actually turned his back completely around one time when he was supplying a rush.

Antonio Morrison is going to be a fun player to watch this and every year he is in a Gator uniform. He is active on the field between plays a lot like Dominique Easley. He is also mouthy and got the best of running back coach Brian White one time with a verbal exchange. White proceeded to show Morrison the proper technique for a back to pass protect lifting Morrison off the ground and jawing back. Both laughed after the exchange as they were having fun. With Michael Taylor out with his injury, it was quite evident that Morrison can fill in at MIKE if need be and he was calling a lot of the plays on the field out there.

Jon Bostic has been talked about a lot in the offseason for his leadership. He's a senior and, for the first time in his career, will play in the same defense for back-to-back season. It's easy to see how comfortable he is. He was more vocal on Saturday than at any time during the 2011 season, making calls for the defense and talking to players around him before the snap.

Defensive Backs

Cody Jones wrote, "The one-on-one drills at around the five-yard line-- This was dominated by the defensive backs. That isn't a surprise since that unit should be one of the best on the team this fall, but they won this drill frequently. It didn't matter the quarterback or the receiver, the defensive backs had a lot of success. The main reason they did so well is their physicality. The defensive backs weren't afraid to play physical. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy lined up with the first team unit all day, and they looked like it from the start to the finish.

Cody wrote, "Despite talk of him being at safety, Brian Poole spent most of his time at cornerback and used his physicality to his advantage. He uses his hand well at the line of scrimmage and takes advantage of the receiver from there."

My take is that Poole has a little ways to go and he definitely only played Cornerback on Saturday, but I love the aggressive style he plays. His issues arrive because he does play aggressively and so beyond the line of scrimmage and further down the field he can lose his guy.

Jaylen Watkins started team drills at the nickel position. Purifoy and Roberson on the corners.

Freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter got some time out there and the kid has a very solid build. The one time I noticed him he had good early coverage on a deep crossing pattern in a man defense, but lost the coverage after the quarterback broke containment and stepped up. It ended up being a long catch for fellow freshman Raph Andrades.

One guy that I did notice a good deal was sophomore safety Valdez Showers. The kid was in the right place a lot on Saturday and very active. He broke up a long nicely thrown Go route on the left sideline about 45 yards down the field playing perfect protection on the play. He also stuck his nose in there when he had to.

We will talk about more on the message boards when we thnk of it.

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