Spring Preview - Defense

It's time for the Florida Gators to hit the gridiron once again, and with the start of spring football, there are several things to watch when Wednesday rolls around. The defense returns nine starters from last year's squad, but will some second teamers and newcomers could make pushes for starting jobs.

DEFENSIVE LINE --- Don't expect to see too much of Jermaine Cunningham. The junior end continued to grow during his sophomore season and has secured a starting role, so the focus will be finding who will replace Derrick Harvey who departed a year early for the NFL Draft. Candidates for Harvey's job include Carlos Dunlap who reportedly had a solid offseason, Jaye Howard and Lawrence Marsh. Newcomer and Gainesville-native Earl Okine is an early enrollee and will have a chance to earn his way into the starting rotation for the fall.

Inside, redshirt senior Javier Estopinan returns from a season-ending knee injury, but his time served should earn him a light spring. Duke Lemmens, Justin Trattou, John Brown and Torrey Davis all played significant downs in the fall and will be looking to impress new defensive line coach Dan McCarney. Davis will be limited, however, so he can focus on academics. Brandon Antwine will miss the spring after missing most of last season with a back injury.

The one to watch will be defensive tackle Troy Epps. The junior college transfer came from Coffeyville Junior College – the same school that sent Reggie Nelson to Florida. Epps brings experience and maturity, but looks to adjust to SEC play.

LINEBACKERS --- The three starting jobs are locked down with Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones all returning. Jones's spot is most vulnerable, but the redshirt sophomore reportedly had a great offseason.

Brandon Hicks, John Jones and Lorenzo Edwards will look to earn their way into the backer rotations, as will early enrollee Brendan Beal. Beal, from Bethlehem, Pa., is one of the gems from the 2008 recruiting class, but he has to deal with the challenges of adjusting to college life, major college football and living more than 1,000 miles from home. Jerimy Finch will most likely spend most of the spring rehabbing from a broken leg and trying to get out of Urban Meyer's doghouse.

CORNERACKS --- The cornerback battle should be something to watch. New position coach Vance Bedford looks for toughness and competitive spirit, but most importantly, he looks for players who can make plays. This was a major area of concern last season, and although Joe Haden should be able to keep his starting job, the spots are wide open.

Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson, Jacques Rickerson, Ahmad Black, Moses Jenkins and early enrollees Jeremy Brown and Janoris Jenkins will all compete for playing time in the fall.

SAFTIES --- Meyer wants to make the two safety positions interchangeable and with the talent that's back there they should be able to do that. Heavy hitting Major Wright will maintain his strong free spot, while Dorian Munroe who spent a lot of last season at the nickel back spot will compete for the strong safety spot. But Munroe needs to be impressive in the spring with Will Hill and Dee Finley coming in the fall.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski

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