Looking at 2013: Defense

There are plenty of names that need to be replaced from the Florida defense in 2013. The Gators had four juniors leave school early and graduated three players that earned multiple starts. With a new defensive coordinator taking over that side of the ball in 2013, there will be new faces for the Gators on defense. However, there is still plenty of talent on that side of the ball.

The Gators lost two key interior defensive linemen. Sharrif Floyd left early for the NFL while Omar Hunter graduated. Both players were disruptive during the 2012 season and made Florida an effective run defense. Replacing them will be tough.

There are still bodies to do it. The most important one was the return of Dominique Easley for his senior year. He brings experience to the defensive tackle position, something the Gators will desperately need next season. Florida head coach Will Muschamp did say that Easley will play inside and outside next season.

"Dominique Easley is a guy who probably played his best game in the Sugar Bowl," Muschamp said. "He played really well. I'm excited."

Easley will be the emotional leader in 2013

The rest of the defensive tackle position will depend on players that haven't proven much in their careers. Damien Jacobs recorded 2.5 sacks last season and one quarterback hurry and Muschamp said he "played well" in his first year after transferring from junior college.

While Easley will play most of his time at the three-technique when Florida plays with four defensive linemen, the search will be for a one-technique to play over the center. Leon Orr could be a candidate to do that. He made 5.5 tackles for a loss in nine games last season before a kidney infection put him in the hospital and caused him to lose weight. He needs to add weight back this season, and according to Muschamp, "needs to step up." Junior college transfer Darius Cummings will play immediately in 2013.

But it won't be easy to replace what Floyd and Hunter did.

"You have a combination of guys," Muschamp said. "Dominique can play inside or out, so depending on if we're in a sub grouping or we're in a nickel group he can slide inside. Against some of the two-back teams, I like him a little bit more on the edge. Darius Cummings is a guy certainly that's going to have an opportunity there. Leon Orr needs to continue to step forward. Damien Jacobs is certainly a guy in there who can do some things, so excited about that combination."

There's also a redshirt freshman that could get involved. Quinteze Williams came to campus and redshirted during the 2012 season. Listed officially as 6-5, 276 pounds, Williams is big enough to play inside and be a force.

"Quinteze Williams is a guy that we really played inside as the season wore on when we went to our opportunity period for younger players," Muschamp said. "He is a guy who will get some opportunities in there. All of those guys and a combination of that and some younger players, but I feel very comfortable with where we are there."

The linebacker position saw the graduation of Jon Bostic and early departure of Jelani Jenkins. Antonio Morrison played in all 13 games as a freshman during 2012 and figures to earn one of the starting roles after finishing eighth on the team in tackles. Michael Taylor finished nine on the team in tackles, adding an interception, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.

Morrison was active at linebacker as a freshman

After those two, it's youth and inexperience. The Gators have three freshmen on campus that are enrolled early and will go through spring practice — Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillan and Matt Rolin. That will add to the depth at the position, with freshmen Jarrad Davis and James Hearns coming to campus in the summer.

"I think at the linebacker position, we got some talent," Muschamp said. "We have some young guys coming in that I'm excited about, but again, they haven't played. Let's let them go ahead make a play before we give them the Butkus around here. We like to do that sometimes."

The secondary brings back every cornerback on the roster but loses both starting safeties. The cornerbacks rotated in 2012 with Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins all earning starts. The coaches raved about freshman Brian Poole during bowl practice, and All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves comes to campus in the summer.

Roberson played well in 2012

"I think our corners will cover as well as anybody in the country," Muschamp said. "I'm excited by those guys."

The safety position has fewer answers than any spot on the team. Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers saw time at safety last season, but their main role was on special teams. Marcus Maye took a redshirt but drew rave reviews from practice. Rhaheim Ledbetter played on special teams last season and will continue to get chances to play on defense.

The Gators will also add three All-American safeties in the summer when Marcell Harris, Keanu Neal and Nick Washington make it to campus.

"I think Marcus Maye had a really good bowl practice, he's a guy that did some nice things for us," Muschamp said. "Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers are both guys that got some time this year. Their opportunity will come in the spring as they continue to work. Ledbetter, we redshirted and is a guy that I think is going to be an outstanding special teams player and certainly will get some opportunities."

With the cornerback depth overflowing and the safety position searching for answers, Muschamp didn't rule out the chance that a player could move from cornerback to safety. He pointed out that Cody Riggs and Watkins have both done it earlier in their careers.

"We'll always look at our best combination of guys that can do some different things," Muschamp said. "Cody Riggs and Jaylen are both guys that moved inside at different times during the year based on injuries and other things that might've happened."

Watkins could see time at safety in 2013

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