Notebook: Plenty to replace

Expectations remain high for the Florida defense, but it may not be as easy as it was for the Gators to produce a dominant unit. The success of last year's group was evident in the draft, as safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd were both first round picks to go with linebacker Jon Bostic as a second round pick. The Gators know they have a lot to replace this season.

Most of it comes in the middle of the field. That's what has Florida head coach Will Muschamp the most worried. The Gators lost both starting safeties (Matt Elam and Josh Evans), both starting defensive tackles (Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter) and both inside linebacker (Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins) from last year's team.

While plenty returns on the outside and there are players with some experienced set to step into the middle of the field, that hasn't made it any easier for Muschamp this offseason.

"You better be strong up the middle in any sport," Muschamp said. "You better have a pitcher in baseball. When you lose Hunter, Floyd, Jenkins, Bostic, Elam and Evans, it'll create some sleepless nights."

Recruiting in recent years is the main reason Muschamp and the Florida defensive staff remain optimistic about what the Gators will put on the field this season.

"We have a good mixture of inside players with Easley, Orr, Jacobs and Cummings," Muschamp said. "I feel comfortable at linebacker with Taylor, Morrison and Kitchens and the four young players we signed. The safeties on campus between Showers, Gorman and Maye. Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs are the wildcards because they can play different things for us. They can play multiple positions."

Orr needs a big year

IMPROVING AT RECEIVER: The biggest need for the Gators this fall is an improvement in the passing game. The hype has built in recent years around Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar having breakout seasons, and it's continuing this year, including a new level for Dunbar.

"I think one of the most improved players on our football team in Quinton Dunbar," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that made tremendous strides last season.

"Solomon Patton and Andre Debose are both guys we'll rely on as seniors now that need to step forward and be more consistent."

Muschamp also pointed to Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman as guys that are making "positive strides" over the offseason and pointed to a recruiting class with "five talented guys." Freshman Demarcus Robinson drew praise from players and coaches during the spring and the other four are on campus now.

Trey Burton will also factor into the receiving game.

PURIFOY'S ROLE DEPENDENT ON OTHERS: Loucheiz Purifoy spent the first seven practices of spring working exclusively at wide receiver, and he'll get reps on both sides in fall camp. What happens during games actually doesn't have much to do with Purifoy.

It has a lot to do with the development of younger players at wide receiver and cornerback. If the young receivers can prove capable on offense, Purifoy's energy could be used less on offense, keeping him as a shutdown cornerback. If the young cornerbacks like Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole prove capable of handling a spot on defense, Purifoy's energy could be better served on offense.

"Loucheiz is going to have a role offensively," Muschamp said. "How much will depend on two things -- the development of our receivers and our receivers on campus, and the development of some of the young secondary guys and how they come along."


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