Five Questions for the Fall: Defense

While it was a bit of a challenge to come up with five questions for the talents and experienced Florida offense, limiting this column to five questions was an even bigger challenge. I mean you have nine new starters… that's nine questions right there. Then you look at depth issues, chemistry in the secondary and the impact of the rookies and you can go on for quite a while.

So we will go ahead and narrow it down to the five key questions that demand answers from the 2007 Gator defense.

Can the defensive tackles plug the middle? ----- There's no other way to put it; the Florida Gators are light in the drawers at tackle. Veterans Clint McMillan, Javier Estopinan and Brandon Antwine are not space eaters by any means. Lawrence Marsh may be needed inside but has not yet grown to 280. Terron Sanders has a bigger build and freshmen John Brown (if he gets in) and Torrey Davis may get in the mix, but Florida will be undersized in the trenches. It's not like the Gators need greatness from these guys. If they simply hold their ground, the Gators will be fine. Power running teams will be Florida's greatest concern this fall.

Will the young linebackers stay healthy? ----- Florida's linebacker corps has not played much, but Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones have to play a lot this season. With only one other scholarship linebacker during spring ball the position has to stay healthy throughout 2007. I'm convinced Spikes and Doe will be superb players, but otherwise questions abound. Those questions get louder and harder to answer if this position gets beat up.

Who wins the corner jobs? ----- Maybe I should re-write this question. To me it's a matter of who will join Joe Haden as a starting corner this fall. Haden is an elite prospect. He is as gifted as any freshman corner I've seen in Gainesville. Right now the favorite for the other corner is Markihe Anderson, but Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markus Manson have other ideas. Jacques Rickerson has the talent, but does he have the focus and drive? It would be a surprise is Ahmad Black or any incoming rookie could crack this top five.

Is it Kyle Jackson's time? ----- The senior safety has all the physical tools to be a terrific player but his play has been sporadic since an exciting debut late in his freshman season. Florida in essence has three starting safeties with Tony Joiner and Dorian Munroe joining Jackson in the mix. They could play together in certain coverage schemes as well. I always find myself rooting for likable seniors to finish up their careers in a big way. With such youth up front, outstanding play in the back line is an absolute must. And great play from Kyle Jackson would be a great way for him to go out.

Who will help Derrick Harvey rush the passer? ----- Harvey was a stud down the stretch last season and finished with a team high eleven quarterback sacks. However, Florida returns just two other sacks from last season. Clint McMillan and Lutrell Alford each had a single sack last season. Jermaine Cunningham gets the first chance to use his corner speed to try and give balance to the Gator pass rush but true freshmen may hold the key here. I'll be watching the early returns on Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens, Carlos Dunlap and Jay Howard very closely. If Harvey is the only one who shows he can provide pressure, he will get more attention than Lindsay Lohan on a three day bender.

All of these questions are important ones and the Gator defensive coaching staff will be looking as hard as they can for the answers. Florida will undoubtedly experiment in the first two games to get as many players into the mix under game pressure as soon as possible. They need good results from most of those experiments by the time Tennessee comes to town.

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