Replacing the middle

The third year in one defensive scheme comes with plenty of optimism in Gainesville. However, the anchor of the defense is gone. Florida head coach Will Muschamp has preached about the importance of the middle of the defense, but heading into the 2013 season, the Gators are rebuilding that area. There are bodies capable of making it happen, even after losing two first round picks.

No one expects the Florida defense to match what it did last year. The unit lost multiple important pieces at each level of the defense, with most of them coming in the heart of the defense.

Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter both played important roles in the middle of the defensive line. The two combined for 17 tackles for a loss, but their most important role came in the space they ate up in the middle of the defensive line. Floyd demanded a double team most of the time while Hunter improved throughout his four-year Florida career.

Without them, the Gators will search for production to fill the void. Dominique Easley is expected to slide inside to defensive tackle, but he's more of a three-technique that can rush the quarterback than a space eater in the middle. What happens next to Easley is up in the air.

THe Gators need Orr to play well

Leon Orr is the most experienced of the other options at defensive tackle, and the 6-5, 310-pounder would be a perfect solution at the nose tackle. He has shown flashes of his talent during his Florida career but needs to be more productive. Senior Damien Jacobs and his former JUCO teammate Darious Cummings will also play into the defensive tackle position.

With the importance of Florida's run defense last season, the Gators have to come up with answers early in the season.

The linebacker position has more clear answers with Antonio Morrison expected to step into the middle linebacker spot. After Morrison, the answers are still up in the air. Michael Taylor, Neiron Ball and Darrin Kitchens are expected to be involved, while freshmen Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin could be forced into action.

Morrison needs to take over for Bostic

Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins took plenty of criticism during their careers, but both played an important role in 2012. Bostic played the best season of his Florida career and was aggressive in the run defense, something he struggled with early in his career. If Morrison can emerge and play at a high level, it will make things easier for the other linebackers around him.

The 2013 NFL Draft was the first time both Florida safeties were drafted. Matt Elam and Josh Evans both improved in major ways during the 2012 season and anchored the back end of the Florida defense. They were the final line of the Florida defense.

It's unsure who will take those spots now. The depth at cornerback should allow Jaylen Watkins to slide to safety and take one of the spots. The other returning options include Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye, Brian Poole and Valdez Showers. Freshmen Marcell Harris, Keanu Neal and Nick Washington could also get involved.

Watkins can play corner or safety

Whoever ends up winning both jobs, it won't be players immediately as trusted as Elam and Evans were last year. Part of that comes with experience, but it could cause some issues in what's expected to be a strong secondary.

The Florida defense will still be good this year. The talent recruited by the Florida staff won't allow for much of a drop off, but there are certainly concerns. It's made worse that they all come up the middle of the defense, an area Muschamp knows has to be strong in the Southeastern Conference.

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