"The sophomores after their first time starting in the SEC— we all know what experience brings. That's why I'm very excited to get going."
The 2011 season ended up being a rebuilding season for the Gators. It wasn't the defenses fault that was the case, but there were times when even the defense struggled. The group finished the year eighth in the country in total defense. The statistic showed how well the group played in some games, but there were still times—against Alabama and LSU—when they couldn't stop the opposing offense.
It was an important year for a defense loaded with first-year starters, plenty of them underclassmen. The secondary had three, sometimes four, underclassmen starters in games. The defensive line had two and the linebackers had one in most games. Experience is the only way for the players to improve in 2012.
The talent the defensive coaches took over in their first year was a group they were happy with. There didn't need to be an overhaul or a different style of players recruited.
"I thought there were some really talented guys," Quinn said of his first impression when he took the job. "Just in the front line there was Floyd, Easley, Howard, McCray and Willie Green. When I saw some of those guys, the first thing I did was put on the tape. Some of them were just freshmen at the time, so you didn't see a lot of them."
The tape could only tell so much. Quinn wanted to get his hands on the defensive players and work with them before he could truly evaluate the talent that the previous coaching staff left in Gainesville.
Once spring practice started, Quinn wasn't disappointed. He was able to see that the underclassmen weren't just big, physically impressive athletes. They were solid defensive players, too.
"As I got through the spring, you kind of got who would take some roles as we went through," Quinn said. "There are talented guys here, and that's certainly a reason I wanted to come here. Through the years, there have been some pretty good defensive players come through here. Those are the guys I wanted to coach if I had a chance to be a coordinator in college.
"I knew there would be talented guys, and I certainly wasn't disappointed."
As many people who come and go from the SEC believe, the difference was at the line of scrimmage for Quinn. After working in the NFL with top athletes on the defensive line, the chance to serve as a defensive coordinator at a top school and work with SEC-caliber athletes on the line made the job exactly what he wanted.
"Will made that clear," Quinn said about the impact of the SEC defensive lines. "When you see SEC linemen… I'd seen them for a long time. I knew where they lived. When I got here, I was glad to see there were some guys ready to work with."
CALLING AGGRESSIVE PLAYS: With that youth turned into experienced players, Quinn expects to be more aggressive in his play calling this fall. Naturally, he is aggressive. He calls plays that help his defense get after the quarterback and force turnovers.The defense is more comfortable in its second year of the scheme. That should allow Quinn to be more like himself when calling plays.
"When you self evaluate, sometimes you say that I wish I could be more aggressive and wish I had," Quinn said about last season. "It's in my nature to play aggressive and up front where we can pressure and effect the QB in that way. At times, I wish I had more last year. We had it in the package, and I'd like to see us play that style."