As Geoff Collins says it, if you are in this Gator defense, you want to be “above the line”. That line is at three positions. He wants to play 10 defensive linemen in every game. He wants to play eight linebackers in every game. He wants to play eight defensive backs in every game.
His style of play means that his guys are going to run and work hard when they are on the field. The more people he has prepared, the better his defense will be. This spring, they are trying out everyone. Repetitions are spread evenly for the most part and different combinations of defenders are used. The goal for his troops is to b above the cutoff line and one of the guys in any group that will get on the field.
“Working to be above the line,” Collins said Tuesday after practice. “Not necessarily much of a depth chart as 1’s, 2’s and 3’s set in stone, but just telling them that this is what we need, we’re going to play about ten DBs every Saturday, eight linebackers, ten d-linemen and your job is to try to be above the line knowing that you can get in and play meaningful snaps. So the guys know that they’re getting meaningful reps with the way we practice, trying to work to be above the line and get on the field.”
Florida has recruited defense very well over the last few years and because of that, the guys above the line should be talented ones for the most part, but there could be some questions. We talk about the three groups, who we believe is above the line, and who is working to get there.
10 DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
The top three at defensive end / RUSH now have a lot of experience. Granted Bullard played a lot last year at defensive tackle and Cox has yet to take a snap this spring under this staff, we know what the two are capable of and the staff expects these two to contribute a lot. McCalister has been praised for his work this spring and his physical attributes have been talked about for a while.
At defensive tackle, Joey Ivie now has played plenty of football and is a high effort guy. Brantley played in big games last year and was able to make some big plays himself.
We haven’t heard a lot about Bostwick just yet, but he is in the mix and should help this year. He got on the field some last year, just not as much as Brantley. He’s a quicker player than Brantley, maybe not quite as powerful. Bryan has been drawing praise and I would be surprised if he wasn’t going to see some good time on the field this year. He is too athletic after using his redshirt not to play. McElwain even hinted at seeing him line up as a lead blocker on goal line offense. He’s up to 275 pounds on his 6-5 frame, so he is a load.
It should be just a matter of time for both Clark and Holley. Both have great size pushing 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds each. Both are really good athletes with their size and quickness. Could one be destined to the offensive side of the ball where some help is really needed? You hate to see that from quality defensive linemen talent, but it could happen. Sherit and Reed are a little bit different. Both a little bit smaller than the guys listed ahead of them on the depth chart and that is making a difference with them right now. But, they both have quickness, and Reed could possibly play a little linebacker where the numbers aren’t great at the moment.
Morrison and Davis are of course on the mend. Morrison had his best year as a junior and Davis has played solid whenever on the field. For Morrison it is going to be about getting back healthy from his injury while they are expecting Davis t be fine before the start of fall camp. Anzalone has really stepped up and maybe the most important mover has been McMillian who is growing leaps and bounds in the new defense and under Randy Shannon’s tutelage. Finally healthy, Rolin is ready to roll. Still a little rusty from his time off, Rolin is a hard worker and he has had a good spring. He will definitely be in the mix in the fall and could push as he progresses until then.
Likely above the Line (2): Jeremi Powell (JR), Steven Stipe (SO)
Powell has been talked about by the staff and we know he has been working hard. Stipe is a walk on and as hard a worker as you will find. At 5-foot-11 he doesn’t have the desired height you like in a linebacker, but he does have 214 pounds on that frame and he is one of those bring your lunch pail kind of guys at the position. They can work some defensive linemen at the linebacker position and maybe a safety or two as well.
Getting there (1): Rayshad Jackson (FR)
You have to think with the numbers at the position that the only freshman linebacker they signed will be put to the test when he arrives. It is a lot to ask for a freshman, but he might be the only one on the whole defense that is asked to do a lot in his first year, maybe outside of CeCe Jefferson.
10 DEFENSIVE BACKS
Above the Line (10): CB Vernon Hargreaves (JR), CB Brian Poole (SR), CB Jalen Tabor(SO), CB Quincy Wilson (SO), CB J.C. Jackson (R-FR), Saf Keanu Neal (JR), Saf Marcus Maye (JR), Saf Duke Dawson (SO), Saf Marcell Harris (SO), Saf Nick Washington (SO)
There is experience galore and talent as well in the secondary. Hargreaves is an All-American, Tabor and Wilson showed they can play with anyone as freshmen last year. Poole is a really good player especially at the NICKEL and Jackson is playing as well as any of them, even with a healing bum shoulder this spring. At safety it isn’t quite as good, but still very good. Neal and Maye have a ton of experience and while both have made mistakes, they both have shown the ability to make big plays. Dawson mde plays as a true freshman as well last year. Washington and Harris haven’t gotten a lot of playing time, but they are stepping up this spring and look to contribute.
Getting There: (R-FR) Deiondre Porter
There is no denying his athleticism. He has terrific length too. The main thing keeping him out of making the move right now is the competition ahead of him. But, one injury and he can be right there. He still has work to do, but it isn’t out of the question for Porter by any means.