Five Fall Questions to Answer: Defense

Here's look at the Gator defense, a unit that returns almost every member of the two-deep that finished eighth nationally in total defense in 2008. You would think there wouldn't be many questions, but there are always some. We may be digging deep here for this all-star group, but we have some things we would like to know about the defending national champs' defense this fall.

A quick look at the defense from last season and we saw a group of veteran linebackers that were consistent and made plays, especially starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. We saw a young secondary that surpassed everyone's thoughts on their production and consistency. We saw a defensive front that was consistent, but not flashy.

The next step for this group is to make strides in being more productive as a defense. It's a difficult task with a group that finished eighth nationally in total defense and broke the school record in interceptions. But here are some things we are going to look for.

Will we get more playmaking from the defensive tackles?

This one is a little tough to see transpire because the Gators go for true speed when in long down and distance situations, constantly putting defensive ends on the field at the tackle or nose positions. The "Joker" package as they like to call it removes the tackles from the lineup and uses bigger ends to get heat up the middle and on the quarterback.

However, I think and defensive line coach Dan McCarney believe the starting tandem of Lawrence marsh and Terron Sanders need to be more productive and more important,we both believe they will be.

Take into account that it was Marsh's first year on the inside as he fought the move for two seasons before finally settling on it at the start of his sophomore campaign. Now as a junior Marsh has a season under his belt and will be ready to make a real move to be a play maker in the middle.

Sanders missed the rest of his freshman year after the injury at Georgia,so his sophomore season was really his first extensive playing time. He too has seen a lot of action and has experience and he should be over any hesitations he may have had in previous years in this system.

This is the quickest area for the defense to get better in my opinion and it can't all be put on the shoulders of these two juniors which leads me to the second most important question for this defense...

Will the Gators develop any depth at defensive tackle?

Marsh and Sanders stayed surprisingly healthy last season, but they can't be asked to do it all. Jaye Howard becomes the most important unknown at this time and will need to make a splash this fall.

The sophomore from Orlando played well near the end of the season in 2008, but he came on in the spring and really turned heads. Howard should be ready for prime time and he will need to coax one or two of his teammates to step up with him.

On the short list to step forward is redshirt freshman Omar Hunter who was all the talk this time last year before he hurt his back. Hunter is in really good shape and has supposedly cured his injured back woes. He could be a huge lift for this defense if he can step up early in fall drills and I for one expect it to happen.

Behind Howard and Hunter it is a big unknown, but the defensive interior will get some help from some of the ends on the roster. Carlos Dunlap (290), Duke Lemmens (260), and Justin Trattou (265) have a lot of size and speed to throw around on the inside and they will get their chance to a lot this season with the various defensive packages the team runs.

Will Will Hill get on the field more?

You hate to upset the apple cart, but if anything, Will Hill has shown he is one of the biggest play makers the Gators have on defense. Hill has to get on the field more than he did as a true freshman, where arguably he was still in learning mode for most of the season.

Still, it is quite apparent that with all the talent in the secondary, he is one of the better playmakers.

I know they are going to do some things to get him on the field more. I think Hill will become one of the more flexible defenders learning multiple positions and this could benefit this team well. I also think he pushes Major Wright for the starting free safety spot all fall.

Will the young guns contribute at linebacker?

With Dustin Doe being a real question mark this fall and the transfer of John Jones, the Gators find themselves in a precarious position. They are still deep at linebacker. Brandon Spikes, Brandon Hicks, and Ryan Stamper (in place of Doe) will likely start but A.J. Jones has started many times and capable backup Lorenzo Edwards has played some. Add to that, sparkling second year guys in Brendan Beal and Lerentee McCray who are looking for their first real shots at playing time.

But, it's the two new freshmen that have the buzz about them. Jon Bostic came to school early in January and all he did was play better than any linebacker on campus,including all the linebackers named Spikes. Meyer has even intimated during his summer speaking tour that Bostic is ready to start. Bostic is a wrecking ball and has the physical tools to play any of the positions and there is little doubt in my mind he sees the field in 2009.

Jelani Jenkins is "the other one" to watch. Mr. Chopped Liver came to Florida as a five-star weakside linebacker according to and the number one player at his position in the 2009 class. Nothing but rave reviews have been sung about Jenkins since he has been on campus. He has a lot to learn in a short time, but expect him to be a special teams dynamo from the beginning and begin making his way into games on defense late in blowouts.

With all the experience, will there be more aggressive play from the defense?

It is hard to imagine this defense being more aggressive than it was a year ago, but with experience and quality play in the secondary, I fully expect this defense to be even more attacking than it was in 2008, a year when the aggressiveness turned into a school record 26 interceptions.

The things they can do with this secondary have to be just scary for offensive coordinators. They have so much flexibility at every level of the defense. They can play four ends and get a primo speed pass rush on the field. They can field two safeties that are both 6-3 and 215 pounds or more and fly. They have three linebackers, Stamper, Edwards, and Bostic that can play any of the three positions on the field. They can play three 240 pound linebackers in Edwards, Spikes, and Bostic.

The main thing they have is speed. There is more speed on this defense than any offense cares to imagine and that speed allows for this squad to take chances, something I can see happening a lot to pressure the other team as we move forward through the season.

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