The staff watched film from the 2014 season, and it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the problem with the team. Florida’s defense has been ranked in the top 10 for total defense in six of the last seven seasons. The one exception came last season when it ranked No. 15.
Instead of making life difficult on the defensive players, the coaching staff took some of the responsibility on themselves. They did add some new terminology for different calls in the secondary, but they also asked the players for their opinion. The coaches would go over things on film and on paper with the players, asking them what they call it.
Many of those names for calls and other parts of the defense stuck.
“I’m good with it if it’s easier for me to learn then 22 other guys,” Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. “I think we’ve been smart in that, so they play fast and don’t have to do a lot of thinking, a lot of new learning.
“It speeds up their development. That’s been a big plus for us.”
Tuesday’s practice made the players get back to the learning aspect of the game. Collins and the defensive coaches helped put in eight blitzes in practice, stacking players off edges and trying to make it fun for the players.
The defense is clearly ahead of the offense in the second week of spring practice. That doesn’t surprise anyone that has watched Florida play in recent years, and it hasn’t been a surprise to the new staff, either. The defense has less of a learning curve with the similar scheme, and they also return a lot of talent.
“It’s very similar, and I think obviously there’s some really good players on that side of the ball, too, that adapted and part of what they’re doing is similar,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “There is a lot of the things come from the kind of the same tree, and obviously some of the nomenclature is a little different here and there, but overall it’s a very similar style of defense.
“There’s a lot of (if it’s not broke, don’t fix it). Obviously they did a great job defensively. That was part of putting the staff together that we assembled defensively was some of those similarities and things that I’ve seen real successful. Those guys are doing a great job over there.”
Also similar to the previous staff’s defense is that the Gators continue to run a lot from nickel packages this spring. McElwain said that has a lot to do with the limited numbers at linebacker this spring, but it also has to do with the way college football has gone on offense.
“When you look at today’s game, you probably play more a three wide out, four wide out teams, you’re naturally in more nickel and dime, just how it works,” McElwain said.
While the film showed Florida’s recent success on defense, it also showed something the Gators need to improve on the defensive side of the ball. Whenever a defender made a big play last season, whether it was a sack or creating a turnover, the film showed just the player that made the play celebrating.
That’s something Collins wants to change fast.
The new staff has emphasized celebrating in groups. So when one defensive player makes a momentum-changing play, Collins is encouraging all of the players to run over and celebrate.
“There would be a lot of great plays being made defensively, but then you would see at times, celebrations being kind of individualized,” Collins said. “The big focus for us this spring is coming together and celebrating together. We give out different awards everyday to them and the guys that celebrate other people. So if Daniel McMillian makes a play and Alex Anzalone or Alex McCalister come running over to them, we celebrate that. Not necessarily just ‘look at me, look at me’ but ‘look at my buddy who just made a play, let’s go get excited about that.’”