Meyer Optimistic about Defense

Florida's 9-4 record last season wasn't because of a lack of offense. The Gators averaged more than 42 points per game, which was good for third best in the nation. The problem was defense, and Urban Meyer thinks with a year under the belt of most of Florida's defensive starters, they should be better.

Urban Meyer addressed the media on Friday morning for UF's annual Media Day, and a major topic of discussion revolved around the Gator defense. Florida allowed 25.5 points per game and were one of the worst in the nation in pass defense. Only two players returned to last year's squad from the 2006 championship group, but the story is different in '08. Florida returns most of the pieces from last year's defense and that is one of the reasons why Meyer is optimistic about this year's team.

"They are a little older, so we have some more maturity on the team," Meyer said. "The other reason is competition. That means at a more impact position you have a guy like Brandon Hicks who is 6-2, 225-pounds and he's not starting, but he wants to start so he's pushing. And I think there's a chip on their shoulder. They kept getting pushed down, but after getting some whiskers on your face and getting pushed into a corner at some time you're going to fight back."

Aside from experience, one of the biggest differences from last year's team to this year's is depth. Meyer knew coming into Gainesville four years ago that there would be a bump in the road. The Gators lost a lot of quality in Meyer's first recruiting class because of the coaching change, and with three full classes now in Gainesville, Meyer hopes most of the number issues are in the past.

The Gators still lack numbers at safety, but to have so many strange things happen to the personnal of one particular unit is rare. The cornerbacks, who have been thin ever since Meyer arrived, suddenly have six players who are all capable of playing on opening day.

"Joe Haden has 13 games under his belt," Meyer said. "That's 13 games in the SEC and he's playing really well right now. The main thing we have is we have some depth right now. Depth breeds competition and competition breeds great play."

The corners aren't the only unit with numbers. The defensive line was a major area for concern last season, but a few guys have started to develop and the newcomers add more depth.

"There are guys like Jaye Howard that had a zero role on this team and are now making an impact," Meyer said. "Lawrence Marsh, Jaye Howard who is moving from defensive end to the inside, he's over 270 pounds and doing well. Troy Epps is much improved. You have John Brown who still has a long way to go and Sanders who has a long way to go, so I think we should have production by numbers."

Freshmen Omar Hunter (back) and Matt Patchan (pectoral) haven't taken part in non-contact drills, but both of them should be cleared and ready to go when camp officially gets underway on Saturday. And there are other freshmen that should make an impact this season.

"The two corners (Janoris Jenkins and Jeremy Brown) are going to be very hard to keep off the field," Meyer said. "Will Hill has to play, and by shear numbers he will play. Another guys is William Green. He is really a special guy that is a no-nonsense guy."

The Gators averaged more than 26 points in their four losses last season. They also scored more than 30 in two of those losses. With almost the entire offense intact, an improved defense almost certainly should result in an improvement from last season's nine-win season.

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


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