SPRING: A look at the defensive back seven

The Gator pass defense should be good again in 2006. The big job will be to replace the two starting cornerbacks and Todd McCullough at linebacker. Jarvis Herring is also gone in the secondary and his leadership and experienced will be replaced with outstanding athletic ability.

The linebackers look to be in great shape as the team's top tackler in senior weak side backer Earl Everett (6-2, 231) will return for his final season. Everett possesses all the tools for the position. He is deft at rushing the passer, he can cover receivers, and he is a sure tackler.

What I want to see this spring: Everett needs to help the young guys and stay healthy.

It's the last shot for senior Brian Crum (6-3, 237). He has the size and strength to play any of the linebacker positions and has subbed at all of them in his time. He came on late last season and showed he can play at the big time collegiate level. Crum is fast and just seemed to lack some of the instincts needed for his first few years on campus.

What I want to see this spring: Crum needs to continue where he was headed at the end of the year last year. Stay aggressive and lock down that third linebacker spot. Consistency this spring will lock down the spot for him.

The leader of the defense is junior Brandon Siler (6-2, 235). He is an All-SEC type player and should have a great junior season. Siler seems to do it all well and plays smart.

What I want to see this spring: He really needs to be the one helping the young guys. The staff can't ask anything more of Siler on a personal level than what he has brought other than getting people behind him on the depth chart ready.

One tease the coaching staff and fans got last year was sophomore Jon Demps (6-4, 230). He played sparingly in about five games and looked pretty good in the process. He was scheduled to get a lot more playing time. Demps will be in a battle with Crum for that third starting linebacker spot this spring. He's big and rangy and a perfect specimen for the string side linebacker position.

What I want to see this spring: I want to see him run in traffic and really show off the physical attributes that make him a freaky type of linebacker. He has really long arms and a wide frame and should be very good at wrapping up the ball carrier and keeping offensive blockers off of him.

The one linebacker we hear that is ready to bust out is freshman Ryan Stamper (6-1, 228). I think Stamper will man the weak side linebacker behind Everett and I wouldn't expect him to challenge for the spot this year. He has sped and instincts, from what I hear he is just a player.

What I want to see this spring: He needs to get the majority of the snaps. Everett has been in a version of this defense for three years and knows it well, Stamper needs to be thrown to the fire this spring and let him earn some playing time by playing well.

The news hasn't been so great for freshman Kalvin Baker (6-0, 245). He needs to watch the weight for one before he balloons out of the position. Baker came to UF as a defensive end in high school and I am not sure he can play with his hand up and not in an end's stance. Time will tell.

What I want to see this spring: Show me something. It is way too early to throw a freshman out with the bathwater, but Baker needs to show that he belongs at linebacker this spring.

One player that is going to have to make an adjustment to the position is Eric Sledge (6-2.212). Already up 17 pounds from his reporting weight of 195 last year, Sledge was brought in as a linebacker, but has never played the position. He brings athleticism to the group and it will be interesting to watch his development early this spring.

What I want to see this spring: Sledge just needs to bring it every day and work hard. I doubt anyone is expecting miracles out of him early, but he can show he can play the position by busting his butt.

I am not sure if the Gators have ever been this loaded with quality talent at safety as they are right now. They lose a very heady and talented player in Jarvis Herring, but the athleticism of this safety group is exceptional.

Senior strong safety Terrance Holmes (5-11, 202) has a lot of tools and is a great person to have in the locker room, but he just can't seem to beat out some of the younger guys. A couple of years ago he was really laying receivers out in practice and looked to be headed for a starting position, but it never really happened. He can run and he is strong, he may just lack some of the instincts.

What I wan to see this spring: Push the guys ahead of him. He really does have the speed, strength, and tenacity to play the position. He needs to work hard and make the others do the same to keep him off the field.

Junior free safety Reggie Nelson (6-1, 198) may be the best athlete on the team. Early last season he seemed to be everywhere the ball was. He is a natural at free safety because he loves to knock heads and he can flat out fly to the ball when it is in the air. He had a few touchdown saving tackles last season.

What I want to see this spring: He started at nickel last year, and personally I think he should try and earn a starting corner spot with the depth chart like it is this spring. That probably isn't going to happen because Nelson is so good at covering up mistakes deep in the backfield.

Junior strong safety Tony Joiner (5-11, 208) should start at the position this year. In his third year, he has a bit of playing time under his belt and physically they know what he can do. Joiner is built for the position as he can play inside in the eight men in the box scheme that the staff likes to use.

What I want to see this spring: He needs to know his assignments. The physical part of the game is not a problem for Joiner. Hopefully in his third year, the mental part catches up and it should.

Junior free safety Kyle Jackson (6-1, 200) is one reason I think Nelson ought to play corner. Jackson had an off year last year and I am not sure why, but he has shown he can play great at the position. If he gets back to form, it may be prudent for the staff to get him and Nelson on the field at the same time.

What I want to see this spring: Jackson needs to show the form he had when he was inserted for Cory Bailey in 2004 and played exceptional as a true freshman. He was knocking people's heads off and making interceptions that year. If he can do that it will really make the staff think about different possibilities in the secondary.

Unfortunately for freshman Dorian Munroe (6-0, 201) it's probably going to be a numbers problem for him this year. One thing good about Munroe is he could play nickel in a pinch and with the lack of depth at corner that could be a blessing for the staff. He is talented and will play some on special teams this year and who knows how injuries and roster moves shake out.

What I want to see this spring: Munroe needs to keep the heat on the older guys. Show the staff he can play now and get out there on special teams and bust his butt. I expect all of that from him.

The Gators take their largest hit on defense at the cornerback positions. Both starters Vernell Brown and Dee Webb are gone and those are some big shoes to fill for two players that played very well last year.

Senior cornerback Reggie Lewis (5-10, 195) is going to have to get comfortable as an outside corner which he switched to from the nickel when Vernell Brown went down. Lewis made great strides during that time after not practicing out there until the injury. He's not blazing fast, but he's strong and quick and has shown he can play at this level. Everyone will remember his overtime interception of a Jay Cutler pass to seal the victory over Vanderbilt and that was a big time move.

What I want to see this spring: Lewis needs to start where he left off. He made great strides after a rough beginning going to the outside immediately after Vernell's injury.

One of my dark horses to get a lot of playing time this season is senior cornerback Tremaine McCollum (5-8, 175). He made more plays than anyone last spring and he seems to play with a chip on his shoulder. His size is the only thing holding him back, but Vernell Brown proved that you don't have to be six feet tall to play the position and play it well.

What I want to see this spring: Do it again, have another great spring. Tremaine needs to let the coaches know that he can make plays out there on a consistent basis.

His brother, senior Jermaine McCollum (5-9, 185), hasn't made that big move yet. He is solid but not spectacular and at his size he is going to have to show spectacular out there to get a whiff on the field. He may be better than his brother at the special team's aspects of the game.

What I want to see this spring: Jermaine doesn't quite show the competitive instincts of his brother. He could play, but he needs to get the fire in his belly to let the staff know he wants to be out there for his final campaign as a Gator.

Senior Nick Brooks (6-0, 207) is the tallest, but probably the least fluid cornerback on the spring depth chart. He has moved back and forth from safety and is probably at cornerback because of depth issues. He can play, but is most likely a boundary corner and would better against the run than most of the Gators other cornerbacks.

What I want to see this spring: Pushing the boundary corner for playing time would be ideal. He has an opportunity of a lifetime with the lack of depth at the position and he needs to push for it right now while the getting is good.

Everyone fully expects sophomore Avery Atkins (5-11, 189) to lock down the other cornerback spot opposite Lewis. Atkins played last year and when he was inserted in the game, he played far better than anyone expected. To be honest, he was a real surprise to me as I thought he looked more like a safety in high school. In fact, he is a great athlete at the position and probably will be a star someday.

What I want to see this spring: He needs to play really aggressive. One thing about last year's cornerbacks is they really played in the face of the wide receivers and made life miserable for the whole game. Atkins does that and he needs to keep doing that.


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