Unanswered questions: Defense

The defensive effort left plenty to be desired last season. While the offense spent its third spring in four years under Will Muschamp installing a new scheme, the defensive scheme has always been the same. That doesn't mean the Gators had no questions to answer this spring. The coaches feel comfortable about the defense heading into the fall, but some questions didn't get answered.

Who will fill out the defensive line depth?

The Florida coaches feel comfortable with the first unit on the defensive line. Dante Fowler and Bryan Cox are likely slated as the starting defensive ends, and a trio of Jonathan Bullard, Darious Cummings and Leon Orr are the trusted group at defensive tackle. After that, there are a lot of question marks.

The talent is there. The consistency isn't. At defensive tackle, Florida has Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie that need to step up. All three had flashes of brilliance during the fall, but the issue was consistency and doing it on every play. After one big play from one of the younger players, they'd take the next play off and not show the necessary effort. Antonio Riles could also be in this group but he moved to guard late in spring.

At defensive end, there aren't as many bodies. Alex McCalister is one that the coaches are high on, and they're not sure if Taven Bryan or Jordan Sherit will be ready to make an impact this fall. Sherit was out with an injury last year and Bryan early enrolled and looks physically mature for a freshman.

Who will be the second starting cornerback?

Vernon Hargreaves has one cornerback spot locked up. There's not a debate there. The other cornerback spot is up for grabs. During the spring, there were three key candidates. Brian Poole has spent most of his career at nickel, but he saw time outside this spring. Freshmen Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor both had impressive springs for freshmen that should've been finishing their senior seasons in high school.

Tabor has the tall, lanky frame that this coaching staff wants at the position. He has ball skills at the position and can run with the quicker receivers. He committed one week before enrolling at Florida and made a strong argument this spring to be a starter. Dawson is shorter than Tabor but he has a thicker frame that can handle playing as a freshman.

All three players proved they can handle the position, but none of them emerged more than the others.

Who will start at safety?

The Gators spent last offseason trying to find replacements for Matt Elam and Josh Evans at safety. This offseason, they're in the same position after Cody Riggs transferred and Jaylen Watkins graduated. The coaches still sound optimistic about the safety position either way.

Will Muschamp actually called it as talented as the Gators have been at safety since he took the job in Gainesville. There are players with experience like Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye. There are talented underclassmen without experience like Marcell Harris, Keanu Neal and Nick Washington.

The secondary will be a lot like the past few years -- moving parts and different players in different positions. But the Gators have to figure out who their most trusted safety duo is early in fall camp.

Is linebacker deep enough?

The top four linebackers this spring were Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison with the first team, followed by Daniel McMillian and Michael Taylor on the second team. The injuries forced the position to be thin, as Alex Anzalone, Neiron Ball, Jeremi Powell and Matt Rolin all sat out the spring with injuries. The Gators didn't sign a linebacker in the 2014 class.

What helps Florida is that the Gators played 70-80 percent in the nickel formation with two linebackers being on the field at the same time. But players need to get healthy by the time the fall gets here because the position on the roster isn't deep enough to handle many injuries.

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