Defense working on starting fast

The Florida defense dominated Miami after the first quarter ended. It was the first 15 minutes that hurt the Gators. The Hurricanes took the field with an up tempo offense and moved up and down the field on the Florida defense. After Miami found the end zone twice in the first quarter, the Florida coaching staff has spent the bye week preaching about a fast start.

The Florida offense didn't do its job against Miami, but Florida head coach Will Muschamp spent his press conferences since the end of the game harping on what the defense could've done better. The unit has heard about it for the last two weeks and wants to get things corrected against Tennessee.

"We've talked about it and addressed it," Florida defense coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "That was disappointing. I feel like there are things that I could have done better, we could have done better as a unit, as a group, players, coaches, all together. We've definitely looked at it and talked about it. We'll learn and grow from it and make our improvements, but yeah, we've got to be ready from the get go."

This Saturday will provide a similar challenge. Tennessee doesn't have the experience or talent that Miami had at its skill positions, but the Volunteers run a similar style of offense. Head coach Butch Jones wants his offense to avoid huddling and get lined up to snap the ball after the previous play comes to an end.

Durkin has seen the offense become more prevalent in the Southeastern Conference.

"Their tempo is something that they try and put you in bad spots," Durkin said. "They utilize tempo and motions and different formations to spread you out, get you across the field and try to get matchups. It'll be a good challenge for our guys."

The other challenge for the Florida defense is preparing without knowing which quarterback they'll see on Saturday. Justin Worley started against Oregon last week, but it didn't take long for Jones to announce that the quarterback job was up for grabs.

Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman is expected to be the top challenger for the job, but true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will also be involved in the battle. It's wide open -- with the focus on Peterman and Worley -- based on who has the best week of practice.

"We have our game plan and we talk to our guys about what the difference may be in the two of them," Durkin said. "We have limited film on Peterman, but we kind of know what to expect from him. He's a little more of a running.

"We're more focused on us and what we need to do to prepare and what they do scheme wise as an offense. I don't know if they'll completely change what they're doing with one or the other, we just have to be locked into our assignments and do a good job of being physical up front."

The game also comes against the best offensive line the Gators expect to face this year. Florida felt that way after leaving Knoxville last season and now four starters are back on the line. It's a veteran group with four seniors and one junior at left tackle.

"They're big, they're physical and they move well," Durkin said. "They're athletic. For the most part, it's four out of the five guys we faced last year and we felt that way coming out of the game last year. So not only off tape do we feel that way, but after playing them we feel that way. And our guys know that and understand."

WATKINS STARTING AT SAFETY: The depth chart changed this week, moving redshirt freshman Marcus Maye to the backup safety spot while Jaylen Watkins slides into the starting safety position. Watkins was the backup cornerback but spent plenty of time on the field in the first two games.

The demotion for Maye comes one game after he gave up a 52-yard touchdown pass to Miami. That combined with the improved play of freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and the Gators like their depth at safety.

"Jaylen's been a guy for us all along that has played more than one position," . It's not anything new. It's just a matter of kind of shuffling things around and getting our best guys on the field at one time, however we've got to do that. We're constantly talking about our depth chart and our personnel and building our packages to get the best 11 guys on the field to go execute what we want them to do."

Maye is the starting dime in some of the defensive sets and will still be on the field. However, when asked if Watkins' move to safety had more to do with Maye's mistake or Hargreaves' impressive play, Durkin said it just comes down to getting the best group on the field.

"We rotate guys through during the game," Durkin said. "We play guys in different spots during the game. We're constantly evaluating who's practicing well, who's playing well, who's doing what we ask them to do. And there's great competition and great depth at all our spots. It's just us always talking through what our best 11 is."

FRESHMEN MAKING MOVES: Hargreaves has been the standout freshman on the Florida defense. Even though it's a deep group on defense that has a lot of experience, Durkin was asked which other freshmen are standing out on that side of the ball.

"Jarrad Davis is a guy you've seen a bunch on special teams, playing and helping," Durkin said. "He's made a lot of plays for us. Alex Anzalone has played some special teams as well. Vernon is the furthest along as far as being out there and helping us.

"We've got a good core group of guys that are playing that have some experience ahead of some of the others. A lot of those guys are starting to make their mark, as they do early in the season, on special teams. You see them show up and show up, then they start playing more on offense and defense."


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