Early Answers: Five Questions on Defense

When fall practice started I remarked that while it was tricky to come up with five questions for the offense, there were easily a dozen that could be applied to the rebuilding of the Florida defense. Here are the answers to five of those questions.

The Gators lost nine starters off last year's superb unit and they had a lot to get done. After week one some of the key questions have pretty much been answered as far as I'm concerned, but others remain out there.

Can the defensive tackles plug the middle? ----- Eventually the answer here will be a positive one, but probably not yet. Undersized big-hearted defenders Javier Estopinan and Clint McMillan are still running with the first team and I don't believe they can hold up against power running games. However I like what I've seen in Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh and various combinations within that quartet would have a better chance. Keep an eye out for Torrey Davis who has a lot of Gerard Warren in him. He needs work on fundamentals and has to play with more discipline within the scheme, but he has the highest ceiling of any of Florida's tackles. Brandon Antwine will also be a factor.

Will the young linebackers stay healthy? ----- Well, that's not a training camp question that can be answered, but perhaps the urgency is a little bit less. Freshman Lorenzo Edwards has crashed the party with authority and will be one of Florida's top four ‘backers from opening day. A.J. Jones looks out of place at the SLB position, but the guy can play. Ryan Stamper provides serviceable depth and Brandon Hicks looks to be ahead of the other freshmen in competing for a sot on the two-deep. It's still important that Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe – Florida's two best linebackers – stay healthy, but it may not be quite as urgent as it appeared to be a week ago.

Who wins the corner jobs? ----- One pleasant development seems to be the competition at corner where I now believe Florida has four guys ready to go. Joe Haden is still at the top of the list for me followed by Markihe Anderson. Wondy Pierre-Louis is still raw but the sky is the limit with his talent and Markus Manson looks more and more comfortable out there. Those four seem well ahead of the other candidates and should continue to push each other throughout the season.

Is it Kyle Jackson's time? ----- I really don't think so. I believe Jackson will likely be the starter opening day and may well keep the position all year long, but I don't see big plays coming from the Florida free safety position like they did a year ago. Certainly, it's unfair to ask anyone to step in and play like Reggie Nelson. Nelson will go down as one of the finest free safeties the Gators have ever had. But Florida needs something from the spot. Look for Jamar Hornsby and freshman Major Wright to get chances to impress early in the season. If they do, there could be a changing of the guard there.

Who will help Derrick Harvey rush the passer? ----- If I had to guess right now, I would say Florida's second best sack total this year will come from a true freshman defensive end. Justin Trattou seems to have impressed the coaches the most thanks in large part to superb fundamentals. I really like what I've seen in Carlos Dunlap who casts and imposing shadow over the guy preparing to block him. Jermaine Cunningham is clearly the starter, but I think one of the kids will end up having a bigger impact.

Looking at the Florida defenders for a week I am convinced the Gators have more than enough talent to field an excellent defense this year. However it is unrealistic to think they will approach the performance of the 2006 unit that allowed only one team to score as many as three offensive touchdowns. The most important thing for this unit is to avoid the long, ball-control drives that can sap the energy out of an entire football team. If they do that, the Gators will have a chance to make this another big year.

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