Defensive Summary - Day 1

With all 11 starters returning on defense you wouldn't expect much change, if any. Surprisingly, there were a couple of modifications on day one that caught the eye of this observer. We'll talk about what we saw on the defensive side of the ball here.

First, I need to mention the tight ends as I left them off of the report yesterday. Aaron Hernandez will no doubt play a bigger role in the offense in 2009 and on Wednesday he exhibited that by being the target that was thrown to the most on the day during the drills. Hernandez also lined up at the line of scrimmage a couple of times and took off in his pass route, possibly showing that he will be used more along the line to provide pass protection in 2009.

Desmond Parks made a couple of nice catches, but he plays very high running across the middle of the field. That is all fine and dandy when the pads aren't on, but he is tall and very thin and will be working in the middle of the linebackers to catch passes. Urban Meyer alluded to the fact he might lose his head trying to play like that in this conference, or even at practice against this defense.

Redshirt senior Christopher Coleman (6-3/245) is a good looking specimen and made a nice catch in team drills. If he can do anything close to Parks this year, his maturity may warrant a redshirt for Parks, so we will be watching what he is doing this spring.

On to the defense....

We mentioned changes and the most significant one that I noticed on the day is when the Gators play a nickel defense. On Wednesday, that nickel player was Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins started every game in 2008 and always started in the short corner playing on the side of the field with the least room from the ball to the sideline.

If you remember, the Gators tried a few options last year at the nickel and I would imagine there will be situations where they might switch it up here as well. Joe Haden was the main nickel defender early in the year with Wondy-Pierre Louis and Jenkins on the outside. As the season progressed, Haden didn't play well against quicker slot receivers and the defense ultimately went to Markihe Anderson to guard that position and Haden back to the outside. Sometimes when playing bigger receivers or flexed tight ends, we would see Will Hill at the nickel matching up against them.

The point being with all of this is that there will likely be some change-ups due to the personnel the other team throws on the field. Still, it is significant to see Janoris playing on the inside and I would imagine it is due to his ability to guard tight with quick receivers. Janoris uses his strength and aggressiveness to attack receivers at the line of scrimmage and just by getting in their face at the snap, it delays the best skill players on the other team from getting off the ball and getting into the pattern at the right time.

Janoris broke on a couple of balls beautifully from the nickel position and batted them down on Wednesday. They also want to use his aggressive play in the nickel for rushing the quarterback.

"It's new and I'm getting used to it," Jenkins said. "The defensive line is helping a lot until I get it down. I guess they just wanted to try me at nickel, wherever they need me I will go. I was comfortable, Coach Bedford was talking to me and teaching me what to do. There is a lot of blitzes, so I have to work on the timing a little."

Janoris inside means that Wondy is back starting outside when the Gators are in the nickel (at least for now). Pierre-Louis spent a great deal of time last year not happy when he wasn't starting at cornerback and Janoris was. That attitude kept him from pushing himself and basically led him to sitting the bench. Over time it waned and he played more as the season progressed. The fact is Wondy is probably the third best cornerback and should see significant time in his final season as a Gator. He looked fine on Wednesday and looks a little trimmed down which could help with his playing the position.

The only other guy that stood out to me at cornerback on day one was redshirt freshman Adrian Bushell. As a matter of fact, Bushell was my player of the day on defense. I watched him make a break on three passes and cause them to hit the ground. He has an excellent build and plays aggressive much like Janoris. He also played inside at the nickel some and outside as a short corner. I can see him really pushing for playing time this year.

As mentioned on the message board during practice, redshirt freshman Jeremy Brown was dressed but did not work out with the other cornerbacks during drills.

Major Wright and Ahmad Black started at safety and honestly there weren't many plays made from the position all day. Will Hill and Dorian Munroe were the backups and I was pretty surprised not to see more of Hill at the nickel.

Dee Finley is the biggest safety out there, but really not much bigger than Hill. They had Finley playing a lot in the box on Wednesday. I could see an eventual move to linebacker with his size, but I think he ran pretty well at safety on day one.

The play of the linebackers as a unit was pretty good on the day. Spikes of course started at middle with A.J. Jones at Sam (with Brandon Hicks out), and the battle for weak side backer continues with Ryan Stamper getting the nod over Dustin Doe as the two shared duties on Wednesday.

Jones, Spikes, and Stamper all had pass breakups in either the team or 7-on-7 drills and continued their excellent play in pass coverage from last season.

The second unit consisted of Lorenzo Edwards in the middle, Lerentee at strong, and John Jones at the weak side. Both John Jones and Lorenzo Edwards also played very well and had pass break ups during the drills.

Jon Bostic played a little at middle linebacker when the third team was in. He can run and move well and will be a force, but was called out once by assistant defensive coordinator Chuck Heater for not break on the ball. "Break on the ball Bostic, break on the ball Bostic...break on the ball Bostic," Heater yelled for everyone to hear. Charlie Strong immediately made Bostic do 10 push-ups for not following through with his assignment on the play.

This should be the year for the defensive line to start making plays. They are mature now and have quite a bit of experience to draw on in the future. It showed during mock passing plays as they seemed to be on the quarterback when the ball hit their hands from the snap.

Too hard to gauge anything with the line until they really start going with pads, the general look of the players looks great. Coach Meyer mentioned that Omar Hunter isn't in great shape yet, but he is definitely in a lot better shape than I have reported in over a year. I like the look of Edwin Herbert, but he will still gain a few pounds. Physically, Jaye Howard looks a lot like Torrey Davis. At 6-3, 305-pounds, Howard is ready to play in the middle this year and earn his keep. Terron Sanders didn't seem to miss any time even though he was listed as "limited" coming into the spring. Lawrence Marsh and Sanders started inside on the defensive line.

Duke Lemmens looks bigger up top than he has been, noticeably bigger to everyone. He should be able to play a considerable amount of time at his listed weight of 260 pounds and be more of a force coming off the edge this year. Justin Trattou played both inside and out on Wednesday but started at the strong side end position in the absence of Carlos Dunlap (looking monstrous as usual) who is out for a while with injury. William green is up to 235 and I can see 245 by the fall where he can make a big difference screaming after quarterbacks. Jermaine Cunningham looked in solid shape as usual and started at the other end.

Earl Okine saw most of his action at defensive end, but like Trattou saw a few plays inside as well. He's 6-7 and 275 pounds now, no telling how big Okine will get by the time he is done.

On special teams, Chas Henry was absolutely bombing the ball every time he kicked it. I didn't really watch the kickers but we know what we get from Jonathan Phillips and Caleb Sturgis. The first long snapper out was senior walk-on Mike Williamson and the second was redshirt freshman Brendan Beal and that was the only work I saw from him all day.

Practice is scheduled to start Friday at around 3:30 and we will be there for it.

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