At the defensive tackle position the Gators will start Sharrif Floyd. Floyd loves the change inside and feels it is a lot more natural for him to grapple inside than out. He is ultra-quick for the position and we have all seen him do damage from the position. He and Easley are post season award candidates. Floyd will be backed up by junior college transfer Damien Jacobs who has really had a super eight months on Florida's campus. Jacobs showed up overweight and out of shape and quickly transformed his body and his game into a player that will be utilized a lot in his first year at Florida.
At nose tackle, senior Omar Hunter returns and he is in better shape and ready to have a good last year on campus. At 6-0 and 313 pounds Hunter is probably down 15-20 pounds from the last couple of years and should have improved stamina to remain a force inside longer in the game. Sophomore Leon Orr will back up Hunter and he too has worked his body into better shape and is now 6-5 and 305 pounds. The jury is still out on Orr and just how good he can be, bu he has been working to get his pad level lower and play with better technique inside.
The BUCK position could be a merry-g-round this year with the injury to projected starter Ronald Powell. Powell's return is looking to happen sometime in October and until then Lerentee McCray is the guy projected to take the spot. McCray has bulked up and is now 6-3 and 249 pounds. He is a blur off the edge and actually could end up being the Gators pass rusher. He will be backed up by true freshman Dante Fowler who came into camp weighing 277 pounds on his 6-3 frame. Despite being a little bigger than they want or expected, Fowler has been impressive throughout fall camp. Now it is all about whether he can handle the rigors of school and football season at the same time. a tough task for a true freshman.
McCray would be listed as the starter at SAM, but while he is playing elsewhere Darrin Kitchens will start there. Kitchens is very quick and a supreme pass rusher from the position. Wh3en he was called into duty a year ago he measured up well and led the team in tackles with 11 in one of the starts. A miracle of depth this year comes in the form of Neiron Ball. This time a year ago, no one knew if Ball would play football again. Now he is actually pushing Kitchens for that starting spot on Saturday and will keep doing so this season. If not for an injury during camp he may very well have been the starter.
The coaching staff is very happy with the linebackers they have returning and it all starts in the middle with Jon Bostic. Bostic is the quarterback of the defense and a guy that the others can lean on. He is looking to make his senior season a big one. Behind Bostic is Michael Taylor who is one of the harder hitters on defense. Not blessed with great size or speed, Taylor brings his lunch pail to work every day and he brings a hammer when he meets the ball carrier.
Not to be done and on the outside at the WILL backer position, Jelani Jenkins is headed for a post season awards type year. Jenkins is up about 14 pounds of muscle after being held back from previous staffs from growing. His quickness, speed, and new found strength should make him an easy post season award candidate. Jenkins will be backed up by true freshman Antonio Morrison who has impressed the staff really early. Morrison has made himself valuable and could now play any of the three spots on the field. Not bad for a guy that has only been on campus since January.
The two cornerback spots are supposedly up for grabs. I think sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy will start at one and be pushed hard by junior Jaylen Watkins. Purifoy is the fastest cornerback on campus and has the length that the coaches love. He uses his speed and quickness to harass receivers. Watkins is a lot of everything, fast, physical, and quick. He will certainly press for starting throughout the season.
The other spot is a race between incumbent starter sophomore Marcus Roberson and junior Cody Riggs. Roberson is a post season award candidate and the likely starter with his physical play that the staff really loves. Riggs comes in with more strength and size (up to 190 pounds) than a year ago. He is a steady player with good quickness and the new strength could really help him.
Strong safety starter Matt Elam can be argued as the top player on the entire team. He does everything well at the position and is a guy that likes to play in the box and mix things up. His back up is redshirt freshman Valdez Showers who has had a really strong camp. Showers may play a little better in space than Elam.
The staff is looking for much bigger things from free safety starter Josh Evans. The senior is fast for the position and they expect his instincts to show up in year two of the defense when he doesn't have to think so much. Jabari Gorman was a special teams star a year ago and has earned a spot in the two-deep now at free safety with his play in spring and fall.
The Gators will be playing a lot of NICKEL defense (5 defensive backs) and the top two candidates there are Matt Elam and Jaylen Watkins. In the DIME (6 defensive backs) Elam again is the guy and he will continue to play closer to the line of scrimmage. With a really quick team out there, true freshman cornerback Brian Poole will get some time at the DIME spot.