Notebook: Gators preparing for tempo

Florida didn't see as much up-tempo offense as it expected from opponents last year, but defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin expects that to change this fall. It starts in Saturday's opener against Toledo. The Gators are expecting to put their defense on the field for over 85 snaps because of the tempo of the Toledo offense. Florida has been preparing for it since the start of fall camp.

Florida saw a similar offensive style in the second week last season at Texas A&M, and Durkin said they've found some similarities in the two schemes. The Rockets try to spread defenses out and create one-on-one matchups in the running game and through quick passes.

The Gators won't huddle on defense, regardless of the tempo of their opponent. That helps ease some of the issues Toledo presents, but the players still need to be aware of what's happening between snaps.

"It's probably something we'll see more this year and more in conference now that there's more teams going to it," Durkin said. "We practice that way. Guys just have to be cognizant of where the ball is, and whether it's a dead ball and when they can sub in and sub out. We've just got to get the signals in fast, get lined up and sub when we can."

Quarterback Terrance Owens threw for 2,707 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, but he adds mobility that the Gators have to account for. The Rockets feature short passes in their offense, which could slow Florida's pass rush.

Owens is a senior that knows the specifics of their offense, but it all goes through running back David Fluellen, who rushed for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The Rockets will also line him up at receiver to get him the ball in different areas of the field and create problems for the defense.

"He can put a foot in the ground and get north," Durkin said. "We've watched him on tape, and we understand this is a legit back that we're facing. We've got to make sure we're where we need to be and be tackling well."

FINDING A SECOND DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Senior Dominique Easley will start at the three-technique on Saturday. The nose tackle position will be filled by a rotation of players. Damien Jacobs and Leon Orr are the two expected to take most of the reps to start the season, but junior college transfer Darious Cummings will also factor into the spot.

Jacobs missed three weeks of fall camp with a patella injury but returned to practice on Monday. The coaches will monitor his snaps in Saturday's game.

"He has looked good," Durkin said. "He's a tough, tough guy. He'll be ready to go."

The coaches have talked about Orr's potential since he got to campus. They're starting to see the 6-5, 302-pound lineman reach it this fall.

"Leon has played his best football throughout this camp," Durkin said. "He's embracing the role of being a veteran now and is going to be counted on to play more snaps for us. He has shown evidence on tape to be more ready to do that."

SECONDARY VERSATILITY: The Gators listed Marcus Roberson as a starting cornerback on Monday's depth chart, but the other cornerback spot listed Loucheiz Purifoy or Jaylen Watkins as the starter. Despite the preseason accolades for Purifoy, Durkin said it's the same way the depth chart was set up last season.

The coaching staff will decide which player starts based on the matchup. All three cornerbacks will spend time on the field together. The Gators will put Watkins at safety in some packages.

"It was a pretty fluid thing," Durkin said. "Those guys are all good football players. It doesn't make sense to have just two of them playing and one watching. Whether that be rotating at corner or sometimes Jaylen playing at safety, we have a couple of different combinations and packages on defense to get them all on the field."

Watkins' versatility has helped the Florida secondary get the best players on the field. He worked at cornerback through most of camp because of nagging injuries that kept players off the field, but he knows the defense well enough that the coaches will still let him play safety in the nickel and dime packages. He can also play the nickel back if needed.

His experience goes a long way, especially with the youth at safety. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs will start next to redshirt freshman Marcus Maye, and there's more youth and inexperience behind them. The coaches trust Watkins at safety if they need to go that route.

"It's great when you have a guy that can do many things for you," Durkin said. "He does them all well. As a leader back there for us, as a senior, as a guy that's played a lot of football for us, that's been great. He's been great with that all through spring and camp."

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