Grading the Gators Defense

In part two of our mid-term look at the Gators professors Vettel and Redman pass out some more grades, this time for the Gator Defense. Our three part series concludes tomorrow with special teams and the all important (and incredibly risky) coach grades.

Defensive Line:

Larry: (B)
While Brandon Spikes is Florida's best player, Lawrence Marsh would be my choice for the top player of the first six games. Marsh has accepted the team's need to have him play on the nose and continues to improve game in and game out. He is second on the Gators with three sacks and leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss which is remarkable for a nose. Only Jermaine Cunningham has more tackles than Marsh's 19 among the linemen. Terron Sanders has made progress and the trio of Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap and Justin Trattou has been okay. Dunlap needs to crank it up and would benefit from being in one spot all the time.

Bob: (B) The Gators are getting solid but not stellar play up front. That is to be expected from a young group like they are. Next year we should be looking for the stellar play from the entire front four. The interior line has done a great job of stoning offenses and although there is some push, it isn't the push we saw from the 2006 group, again, they are a year away. The biggest thing missing right now is that consistent outside rush from the ends, if they were getting this from Cunningham, Trattou, and Dunlap this grade would be an A.

Middle Linebacker:

Bob: (A-)
Brandon Spikes is certainly one of the best three players on the team, but he has had his moments where he disappears or does get beaten. Against Arkansas and scat back Michael Smith, he did not look good. For most of the season he has played at a very high level and that is why he deserves just short of a perfect grade. I think the Florida defense goes as Brandon Spikes goes and there is something to be said for that. The lack of a ready back up is a little worrying.

Larry: (B-) I agree with Bob that Spikes is a great player, but he hasn't been great every game like a great player can/should be. Arkansas and Ole Miss were both games were he needed to be more of a factor. But he was a monster otherwise. I'm grading him tougher than some other spots because he can be as good as anyone anywhere. The lack of depth is responsible for the minus, not Spikes.

Outside Linebacker:

Larry: (C-)
This might be the weakest unit on the football team, and yet I don't think anyone plays any harder than these guys and they generally do okay. A.J. Jones continues to amaze me with his productivity at SLB, taking on blockers and even runners significantly bigger than he is. His 26 tackles are tops in this group while his backup Brandon Hicks adds 15. Florida needs to get more from the WLB tandem of Ryan Stamper and Dustin Doe. They have combined for just 26 tackles and the WLB should be making more plays than the SLB. Stamper has recovered a couple of fumbles but none of the LB other than Spikes has an interception.

Bob: (B-) I agree, A.J. Jones has had a pretty good year with his 26 tackles 1.5 tackles for loss, two pass break ups, a quarterback hurry, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His position dictates him being out of the mix a lot of times in coverage, but he has been productive anyway. I think the production from the weak side isn't quite there, but it also has seen three players play the position during the year and injuries have hurt the production with Dustin Doe missing the last two games. Some sloppy tackling early in the year started the grade out lower, but these guys have progressed in my opinion and are better than last year.

Defensive Backs:

Bob: (A-)
They had a few bad plays against Ole Miss, but overall the secondary has been absolutely great and I believe exceeding the expectations of most. The truth is you could see it in their play in the spring when they played with a lot more confidence. That carried over this fall and now the secondary has three of the top four tacklers on the team, has seven interceptions in six games, has 13 passes broken up, two sacks, and two forced fumbles They are giving up 178 yards through the air, which puts them 31st in the country and actually so much better than last season. The cornerback play has been stellar with Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins, while safety play has been very solid.

Larry: (B+) Not much of a difference of opinion here. Joe Haden had some issues against Brandon LaFell, but for a true sophomore he is an outstanding corner. Janoris Jenkins could end being the best to come through UF. He has it all and plays like a veteran. Major Wright and Ahmad Black have been solid at safety and helped the Gators limit big plays for the most part. Obviously that was not the case against Ole Miss where big plays were the difference. I can't give an A because of Ole Miss, so they get a B, with a plus for them being so remarkable young. I don't know of anyone else starting all freshmen and sophomore in the secondary.

Florida needed the defense to be better this year and it has been. The performance against LSU's running game was a real highlight and something they could build on in the second half of the season. They may not face a complete offense this year because of the injuries on the Georgia offensive line, but the trip to Jacksonville is the largest remaining challenge. To be this good without a senior getting any meaningful playing time is a real credit to this coaching staff.

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