Sharif Floyd (6-3 303) 1st Rd Draft pick, 46 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 sacks
The best player on last year's defense might actually be the easiest to replace. Dominique Easley (6-2 283) looks to slide inside and should produce these numbers along with potentially more sacks. Easley has looked dominant in the previous two practices in 1 on 1 drills along with team drills. He possesses an energy level unlike many DT's that have come through campus. This will be key throughout the year as he will be asked to slide outside to defensive end on occasion.
The backup for me even though I think he will start out lined up next to Easley is Leon Orr (6-5 310). Orr possesses the same energy and quickness but needs to find that consistency.
Matt Elam (5-10 202)- 1st Rd Pick, 76 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 Sacks, 4 INT, 5 PBU
This one is bit more difficult. Muschamp likes to use a lot of guys in the secondary at one time. There were times Saturday where you could count 6 secondary players in the formation and their base defense appears to have 5. A guy who has really come on and has the size to play close to the line with a physical presence is Marcus Maye (6-0 200). Maye is a member of the "Get off The Bus First" crew as he is a physical specimen who knows his way around the weight room. Maye had at least one INT at todays practice and could have had about 4. Maye should be much better in pass coverage as he appears to be more athletic and has the ball skills to turn bad passes into turnovers.
The backup situation appears to be down to several players. Jabari Gorman (5-10 186) is a guy not many people mention yet is with the 1st team right now in place of the injured Jaylen Watkins. Gorman is a physical safety who just makes plays while in. After Gorman appears to be freshman Keanu Neal (6-1 204) who is turning heads right now. Neal is another member of the GOTB crew. Neal is a head hunter who has been very good in coverage so far in drills.
DOWNGRADE (For now. Maye has been very impressive and I believe he has more potential that Elam physically. )
Jon Bostic (6-1 246) 2nd Rd Pick, 68 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 PBUM
This could be the second easiest transition as Antonio Morrison (6'1 229) looks to slide inside. Morrison certainly had an interesting offseason and hopes to take over the reins of the defense. E.J. Manuel will tell you that Morrison can bring the thunder and he appears to have put on some weight this offseason that should help him inside the tackles against the run. He does not have the size of your typical run stuffing Mike; however he makes up for this with a mean streak and hitting ability that few have. Morrison appeared a bit of out shape on Thursday night. Evidently getting to actually hit some people in the scrimmage on Friday got him into 5th gear as he looked much quicker at Saturdays practice.
Michael Taylor (6'0 231) appears to be the backup here. Taylor has looked very good in rush defense with several tackles for loss on Saturday but is a liability in pass coverage and in open space.
UPGRADE (This is simply based on a much higher level of tenacity that Morrison brings to the position along with outstanding athletic ability)
Jelani Jenkins- (6-0 237) 4th Rd Pick, 29 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 Sacks, 1 INT.
Jelani did not have the season he might have expected although he only played in 9 games due to injury. He did bring a lot of experience to the table that won't easy to replace. Stepping into his position appears to be Neiron Ball (6-3 235). If you aren't rooting for Ball you haven't been paying attention. Dillman is making his presence known as Ball is yet another member of the GOTB crew. Ball came to UF as a 210 lb. rusher and has transformed his physique into a guy you don't want to find meet face to face on the line of scrimmage. Linebacker is always a tough read in practice when there is no tackling. We know Ball has the speed and we see he has the size and strength. Ball was a part of the 2010 recruiting class, so he has been around the program and should have an idea of what to do out there.
The other guy here is Darrin Kitchens (6-1 229). Kitchens has been limited in practice but shares a lot of the same traits as Ball. Ball Kitchens and Taylor will battle for this spot with the outside chance of a youngster like Daniel McMillan (6-1 227) stepping in down the road.
McMillan has all the tools and has been working on the Buck position lately with fellow freshman Alex Anzalone. McMillan's head might be spinning a bit too much to push for starting positions this early but likely be a force on special teams. He could line up at any 1 of 4 spots on the defense.
EVEN (This would be a downgrade had Jelani played the entire year, instead Kitchens and Michael Taylor for plenty of reps already and bring another year of experience to the table this year)
Omar Hunter (6-0 313) 40 tackles, 4 TFL, 4 PBU.
This sounds crazy but this might be the most important replacement on the defense. Hunter quietly had an outstanding 2012 season at NT. Nose is a position that lacks glory. It lacks stats. It takes discipline the willingness to do your job. When your job is taking on 2 300lb+ OL, it isn't much fun and takes a special player. Who will that be?
Right now, it appears to be Leon Orr. Orr is the biggest DL with good height. Height is a good thing to have at DT as you can limit the QBs ability to throw over the middle of the field, something a certain team the Gators play in Jacksonville loves to do. Orr has shown tremendous ability to beat the OL in 1 on 1 drills as he possesses great hands and quick feet for a player his size. There are a slew of potential backups and/or starters at this position. Potential Starters include Damien Jacobs and Darius Cummings. Backups include freshman Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles.
DOWNGRADE (Orr brings a lot more big play potential to the position, however that is not what we need here. We have plenty of guys to make big plays on the DL named Fowler, Bullard, Easley and Powell)
Josh Evans (6-2 201) 6th Rd Draft Pick, 83 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 Sacks, 3 INTs
Josh Evans quietly had an outstanding 2012 season. Evans led the team in tackles by 6 over Matt Elam and second on the team in INT's. In Muschamp's defense the safeties are interchangeable so everything listed under Matt Elam can be said for Josh Evans. From everything we have heard, Jaylen Watkins (6-0 181) will line up at Safety to start the year. Watkins has not been out at practice this weekend due to injury. Watkins leaves a bit to be desired in run defense from the safety position but was quietly the teams second best pass defender with 3 INTs and 8 PBU. Roberson was first with 2 INTs and 12 PBUs and Purifoy went without an INT and only 5 PBUs. A little surprising eh?
SPLIT-DOWNGRADE (RUN) UPGRADE (PASS) (I think Evans had an outstanding year. I don't see the replacement leading the team in tackles but hope that comes from one of the linebackers. This would be an upgrade if the schedule was loaded with high flying pass attacks but there are only 1-2 teams that could challenge the Gators through the air.)
Lerentee Mccray (6-3 249) Undrafted, 25 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT 1 PBU
Mccray had an average year overall. Will Muschamp would like those numbers to be MUCH better at the Buck position. Mccray was overshadowed by the play of true freshman Dante Fowler (6-3 265) who looks to have a monster year in 2013. Fowler has just made people look silly in OL/DL drills and only tested by quick footed young star D.J. Humphries. Coming back into play here is Ronald Powell. Powell appears to be a starter at SAM and a backup at Buck. Powell has taken huge strides and shown off many quick violent moves in pass rushing drills. He appears to be completely healthy and more importantly, trusting his knee.
UPGRADE (This one is pretty clear as both of these players are likely to be upgrades over Mccray)
All of those players leaving seems like a big deal. You simply cannot replace experience. However, when you break down the replacements and look at the roles they fill, this defense has the potential to be better than the 2012 version. This is especially true when you consider adding a year of experience to the likes of Roberson, Purifoy, Fowler, Bullard, Powell, Watkins, Taylor, Morrison etc. You have to assume each of those guys has improved.