The questions on this defense remain in the middle and especially against stopping the run. Florida has to replace their top three defensive tackles from a year ago and their two inside linebacker types, along with both safeties. The key for opponent's offenses and attacking the defense should be a straight line from the quarterback taking the snap and through the center of the defense all the way down the field. That is where the offense attacked the most on Saturday.
Here is what we saw from the different areas on defense.
Out completely from the action were junior Ronald Powell and sophomore Jonathan Bullard. Those two could very well be your starting BUCK and starting DE when the first game kicks off in the fall. Both were nursing injuries and unavailable.
Senior Dominique Easley sat out the entire scrimmage situations but did participate in the drills posing the different lines against each other. Quite honestly, Easley had his hands full both going against sophomore D.J. Humphries and junior transfer Max Garcia in the drills. He won some of the battles against the two and lost some. He played inside and outside along the line in the drills. I wasn't exactly pumped about his play, but do believe the offensive guys I just mentioned performed very well.
Two guys really stood out to me along the defensive front and two surprised me a little. By all accounts Dante Fowler was a beast on the field for most of the day. Fowler is in great shape and showed off his athletic ability sometimes. Although I didn't see the defensive line itself getting a lot of the pressure on the quarterback, he made for a lot of movement up front and was quick to strike the ball carrier coming to his side.
The other one up front that really looked good to me was defensive tackle and junior college transfer Darious Cummings. I posted a couple of weeks ago where Cummings looks a bit out of shape and I will stay on that remark and even Will Muschamp mentioned that this past week. Still, Cummings has a hell of a punch to him when coming into contact with an offensive lineman. He has the ability to kind of daze the offensive guy and knock him off his mark. He has decent quickness and I believe once he gets his body in shape that quickness will be even better and he can make it really difficult for those up front. He was the most difficult guy for the offense to handle one on one up front.
One surprise to me was defensive end and red-shirt freshman Bryan Cox, Jr. Cox came to Florida as kind of a tweener, possibly a linebacker or a BUCK. 30 pounds later and Cox is now a defensive en. He looks like a guy that can really help this year and was at times thrown inside on passing situations. He was the only one I saw that actually got the better of Garcia one time in one of the drills. He has quick and strong hands and is quicker than a lot of the guys up front. I like his ability overall.
I also was impressed with Joey Ivie. I seemed to be the only one out there impressed with him two weeks ago in an open practice, but I liked what I saw again. I do think it will take some time to be totally effective, he has to get more weight and strength, but the kid has strong arms and uses them well, much like Cox. He is relentless when the ball is snapped. His issue again is that he doesn't have enough mass to him when he approaches guys that are 40-50 pounds heavier, but that will come and I think he can be a good one.
I wasn't really disappointed with any of the defensive guys up front but was hoping to see more out of Alex McCalister and Damien Jacobs. These are two they are counting on heading into the fall. I also would have liked to see more push from Leon Orr, but I like the quickness he brings and he seems to be playing tough. From what I understand, Orr is the mouth of the line talking smack more than any other out on the field.
Not surprising Antonio Morrison was the stand out here. I honestly didn't get a lot from the linebackers mainly because I was focusing on the defensive line and then followed the ball to the secondary on pass plays. Still, Morrison made plays and is clearly the leader when he was out there.
One move made this week was Muschamp announcing that Darrin Kitchens would play at the MIKE or middle linebacker position, the same as Morrison for the most part. I think one thing they are pushing there is especially in passing downs, to get the fastest players on the field. They also go to a nickel defense in passing situations meaning there is no SAM backer on the field, Kitchens can run and showed that on Saturday. H isn't the biggest, but it seems like he will be utilized as a passing down linebacker. He is a guy that can rush the passer if need be.
Neiron Ball didn't look bad, but didn't stand out either. A couple of guys that made some standout plays were red-shirt freshman Jeremi Powell and freshman Daniel McMillian. Powell looked like a bullet sacking Tyler Murphy one time and hit the backfield so fast he couldn't keep from hitting Murphy, a big no-no in practice as they are supposed to lay off of hitting the quarterbacks. Just seeing the speed at which he made a bee-line for Murphy was really impressive though as he looked like he was shot out of a cannon.
McMillian is big and fast. He looks the part and gets himself into position fast and has good recovery speed. He needs to work on his catching ability as he dropped an interception that hit him in the chest, but the thing you want to see at this stage of his development is that he is in the position to make the play. He makes some mental errors, but he also made some plays and plays hard.
Michael Taylor should be the odd man out in the nickel situation with Kitchens at MIKE and Morrison sliding over to the WILL> Taylor won't win many foot races, but he would win a lot of hitting contests against anyone not named Morrison.
Lots of good play here as expected. The corners were breaking up passes all over the place. Sophomore Brian Poole played in the slot at nickel a lot and really played well. He is the physical guy they like at cornerback. Jaylen Watkins played at nickel and safety as well and made some plays on the ball. Both Watkins and Poole had at least one sack and both untouched to the quarterback on the day.
Loucheiz Purifoy was as active as ever breaking up a few passes in the scrimmage situations. I saw at least one pass break up from Marcus Roberson as well. The play at cornerback is really going to allow a little bit of a breather as the defensive line comes of age.
At safety, Marcus Maye was the player of the day. He will definitely play on Saturdays. Whether he starts or not will depend a lot on what they do with Watkins and the play of Jabari Gorman and the incoming freshmen as well. I also don't want to discount Valdez Showers, he has a chance of playing a lot too, but Maye seemed like he was everywhere on Saturday and made several plays.
In a nutshell I think the defense has a little shoring up to do in the run game, especially up the middle. I truly believe pass defense will be excellent and for a change we will get the best pass rush from the outside instead of the inside along the line. The play at corner will allow them to take chances, further allowing more run support and more pass rush from blitzing.
the athleticism is there at all phases of the defense. There is some youth and experience along the way as well, but some real football players that should gel at some point early in the season. The strength should be the ends, Morrison in the middle, and the corners.