FLORIDA DEFENSE: It's All About The Team

It has become perhaps cliché to say football is a team game. There is no one player that makes a team or a unit on a team solid. For the Florida Gators, and in particular the defense, this idiom rings loud and clear. A look at the statistics and the quote board for the defensive unit is proof positive that the Gator defense is dominating and doing it with team effort rather than individual prowess.

The Gators are ranked number one in the nation in pass efficiency defense. This means the opposing teams quarterbacks are statistically having the worst year against the Gator defense than any defense out there. Having already played somewhat seasoned quarterbacks from Louisiana Tech, Wyoming, and Tennessee, this feat seems monumental for a team that was supposed to struggle when playing the pass do to a young secondary.

Likewise, the Gator defense stands ninth in the nation in rushing defense after facing some pretty good running teams. This is in stark contrast to the rush defense that was the Achilles heel of the defense in 2004. According to weak side linebacker Earl Everett, it's all about understanding the individual role and trusting that everyone else will fulfill their obligation to their teammates.

"One of the main differences is guys are focused on doing their job and not worried about what the guy next to them is doing," Everett said.

This function of working together on the field is a product of working together all the time off the field. Everett says the cohesive product that fans are watching on Saturdays on the defensive side of the ball is directly related to the way the team and defense work together 24 hours and seven days a week.

"Guys are coming together," he said. "Last year there were cliques … guys went this way and some went that way. This whole team is coming together as one and everybody is hanging with everybody. It all started in January. We all worked out all summer long and we had workouts till two in the morning one night. One thing they are really stressing is people coming together. Everybody is buying into what (the staff) is bringing."

The summer workouts and even the current practices have made the Gators a tougher team. For the defense the toughness is a necessity. The coaches have one thing they want the defense to do on the field. The staff wants the opposition to understand they have been battered on by the end of the game.

"This year we are basically being taught to beat the mess out of the guy in front of you," Everett said. "A lot of teams get coached to play a game, but we are getting coached to just beat on them."

Florida Coach Urban Meyer sees the defense and what it is accomplishing on the field of play. He hasn't been short of accolades for his defensive troops.

"I am really proud of the effort our defense is giving," Meyer said Monday. "Other than a couple of turnovers and special teams miscues, there really isn't anyone scoring on our defense. Tennessee took a drive and stuck it to our defense. Other than that all year, we are four games into it and I am really proud of the way they are playing."

With the defense playing as one, the individual goals will come for the Gators. Florida is currently tied for sixth nationally in interceptions and has had many more chances at more this year. Once the defenders start hanging on to the ball, the individual statistics on the defense will start to show itself. For Everett it has started already.

Everett intercepted the first two passes of his career against Kentucky on Saturday and has dropped two more this season. For Everett it has been a maturation process and one he thinks the entire defense will capitalize on this year.

"It felt real good, those were my first interceptions," he said. "We have a bunch of playmakers and at any given time anyone can make the play. I feel a lot more confident going through the plays this year than last year."

The contagious effort on the field is producing awards within the team. Meyer and company have what they call a Champion's Club for every game. It is a select group of players normally that grade out well and perform at a high level on Saturdays when all the work counts. Against Kentucky the Champion's Club had an unusually high number of defensive players. At the media day on Monday Meyer rattled off the names of Steven Harris, Marcus Thomas, Vernell Brown., Jarvis Herring, Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, Kyle Jackson and Everett for their work on the defensive side against Kentucky.

Senior strong safety Jarvis Herring has been a member of the Champion's Club every week this season. The outspoken team leader from Live Oak is a prime example of the unselfishness that the defense has seen this season. He is the only starting member of the secondary without an interception, yet he grades out every week at the top of his game. The individual glory isn't important to Herring.

"The way things went the last couple of years, I don't care who gets it (the interception)," Herring said. "I'm just glad somebody gets it. I just go out and try and play perfect. If I do my part, I did enough,"

On Saturday the entire Gator team played somewhat schizophrenic. The Gators built a huge lead and the staff decided to substitute inexperience into the game. The result was something the staff wishes they could have back. The backups didn't perform on either side of the ball Saturday and that needs to change.

Everett doesn't want to overstate the negative of the drop off of the second unit. It just means they need to get back to the field and learn what they need to learn.

"The defense is playing real well," Everett said. "There are still some things we need to work on and it all goes back to practice. When we (first teamers) aren't out there helping the team, we get anxious to get back in there. All the first teamers were rooting the other guys on to play hard."

In contrast, Herring thinks it is a matter of trust that the second unit goes in the game and keeps their end of the bargain. He wants those guys to understand they need to pull their weight. On Monday, he and a few of the other leaders on the team made sure the younger guys understand what is expected

"They played horrible, nobody did well," Herring said. "They got it today big time from everybody. They have to gain respect from everybody, they feel bad as hell now."

With the trust the team is building there is no doubt the young guys will take heed in what is being said from the older guys. This defense will get better with the indoctrination of the younger players that are improving as the season goes by. With a stable of young players behind the starters that can come in without a drop-off, the Florida defense could be scary good before the season is over.

Fightin Gators Top Stories