Quinn Wants Fast Start for Defense

Dan Quinn knows what the stats said. The Florida defense ranked in the top ten in total defense during the 2011 season, but there were times when the unit didn't look like it. Saturday will go a long way in showing how good the defense can be this season. It's only one game against a lesser opponent that the Florida defense should dominate, but Quinn wants his defense to get off to a quick start.

"I think that's an important thing for us every week in terms of our defense setting the tone," Dan Quinn said. "When we get a chance to go out and put our style on tape, that's important for me and not just for this team, but for every team that we play. Really that's your calling card as a player and what you put on tape.

"We think that as a whole unit, by the way you get to the ball, by the way you affect the quarterback, by the way you take the ball away. Those are the things we're looking for from our defense and what we put on tape."

The coaches spent the offseason harping on a fast start. There were times when the Gators didn't start fast in games last season, and the team had to fight from behind to get back into the game. They're hoping to avoid that this season.

The fast start isn't just in games. The Gators also want that to happen in the season. After the game against Bowling Green on Saturday, Florida goes on the road for back-to-back games at Texas A&M and Tennessee—two games that could determine the fate of the rest of the season.

The fast start combined with technical improvements on the defensive side of the ball could find help the Florida defense reach the next level.

"We want to start fast," Quinn said. "It's been that way for the whole offseason. Some of the things going into the offseason that we really wanted to improve on are that we want to be a better tackling team. We worked hard at it. We certainly emphasized taking the ball away. We want to see some improvement in that area, and we talked about affecting the quarterback.

"Those three areas we really set our jaw on and said these are three areas we really want to improve. I'm anxious now that the season's here to see and evaluate that, too."

The defense should take another step forward this year with experienced players and the second year in the defensive scheme. The players can play faster this year since they're more comfortable in the scheme and know the defense better. Multiple players have admitted playing slow throughout the 2011 season because they were more concerned with making sure they had the defense down than playing fast.

That would be a reason the Gators struggled to create turnovers last season.

"The big thing is when all the veterans returned, and we started the camp you could sense right away there was a familiarity with what we do," Quinn said. "The real challenge is how do you catch the new players up to get them on the same page."

There aren't numerical goals for the season opener, but Quinn will be able to learn a lot about the unit from watching the film. The communication and physicality were areas that struggled during the 2011 season, and the defensive coordinator will spend time watching during the game and on film to see if the group has improved.

"I'd really like to see us one, be really on it from a communication standpoint. In terms of the calls and the things we know we have to do at the line of scrimmage to get us into the right defenses. I'd like us to see a really physical line of scrimmage. We've talked about that being something that's a real area of emphasis for us.

"We'd like to see really strong tackling. The last thing is, we want to affect the quarterback. Those are the things as a group that we're constantly emphasizing. I don't know if it's necessarily just for this game, but when we're into the season, I want to see those things carry through."

HELP ON THE INTERIOR: After inconsistent play on the defensive line in 2011, the Gators are hoping to get more out of the front this season. Part of that will come from weight and strength gains under first-year strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman.

Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter worked in the offseason to get stronger. Quinn easily saw the difference when working with him on the practice field. Hunter has been able to disengage from the offensive linemen easier with his added strength.

"I think one of the things that Omar brings right off the bat is the guy's a real worker," Quinn said. "He's relentless. He stays after it. I think the thing that he improved as much in the offseason was his overall strength. You see more leg strength from him. You see a stronger man when he sheds blocks.

"To me, the work ethic from Omar has always been there. He's a hard worker. Every day in and out and then now you're kind of seeing a more strong and powerful man inside and that's showing up in practice by the way he can take on blocks and get off blocks."

Sharrif Floyd could also be primed for a big year after switching back to his natural position. Floyd spent his sophomore season at defensive end because the team needed an experienced end to serve as an anchor on the edge. It was new to him and a learning process before the 2011 season, but he managed to play the position throughout the year.

Floyd is back at defensive tackle, his natural position, this season. The Gators decided to move Dominique Easley outside to the defensive end position to take his spot.

"I think inside Sharrif adds quickness for what we do," Quinn said. "In that way, we've got a number of guys inside that we're counting on. (Damien) Jacobs is one and Hunter is one and Floyd's one. Orr and those guys inside all have size and strength and have some good quickness to them. Those four are going to play key roles in how we do it. I think if you're strong inside at defensive tackle usually you have a chance to push the pocket as a rush and be strong in the run game as well."

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