Gleaned From Preseason: Defense & ST's

The defending national champs return every starter on defense from their national championship campaign. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't any position wars among the starters. The Gators were very young on defense last year, even to be so good. That in turn means that other young players were chomping at the bit to get on the field as well. This preseason that is exactly what happened.

We have already discussed the offense, now we can talk about the Florida defense that has returned almost everyone in the two deep. Lucky for the Gators, the defense was great last year. Unlucky for Gator opponents, there are young guys that were riding behind some of the starters, that just may be better than those that started. Here is a look at what we have garnered so far.

Defensive End

If there is one thing key in this group it is their versatility. All three of the main players on the strong side have the ability to play in the middle of the line on passing downs. Led by Carlos Dunlap as the starter at strong side end, he is a freak that is everyone's lock for a top ten draft pick next year. Urban Meyer and Coach Dan McCarney have both lauded Dunlap for his offseason work and how much he has improved his work ethic. He will be a dangerous man as a starter, something he never was last season, even though he led the Gators with 9.5 sacks.

His backups are bookends according to McCarney. Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens both come in around the 265 pound mark and both have a ton of experience under their belt. Trattou does all the dirty work it seems and comes up with loose balls and rare interceptions for defensive ends. Both are absolutely relentless to the ball.

According to the staff Cunningham is poised for a huge season and has worked harder than ever to get ready for this season. He is 260 pounds or so and at his optimum weight for a weak side end. He will make it hard for teams to double team Dunlap on the other side. William Green is his backup and really just waiting for his turn to be the next starter at Florida. Green is already 245 pounds, up 39 from ha year ago and looks incredibly lean and has the best first step of any of them.

Look for Lerentee McCray and Brendan Beal to see some snaps in passing situations as weak side pass rushers. Of course they love using Brandon Spikes in that role too in long down and distance situations. Kedric Johnson should redshirt this season.

Defensive Tackle

One of the best battles of fall camp has been between incumbent starter Terron Sanders and sophomore Jaye Howard. Sanders started all of last season and did a pretty good job. Howard brings a play maker to the mix. This one has been in the works since mid spring when Howard really had the light go on. He was always fighting his weight gain, then he let it go too much and finally got in shape in the spring to make a difference.

The next in line in my opinion will be Dunlap, Lemmens,and Trattou. That is five quality big bodies to throw in there even if the last two are only in the 270 pound range.

At nose tackle, Lawrence Marsh has held strong to his spot and has really improved his pass rush. Lawrence was another that fought the position and wanted to be an end when he signed on with the Gators. His body growth just would not allow that. Marsh was solid last year, but should be much improved in 2009. He will also be pushed by freshman Omar hunter who will play a lot and will play well in 2009. Over his back injury, Hunter has been impressive this camp and I believe will push Lawrence as the starter as the season winds along. Troy Epps would be third guy in line, but Howard could also play at the nose.

They haven't gotten much out of Edwin Herbert and I don't imagine they expect much. Earl Okine could play inside or out, and that still isn't settled. Gary brown will likely redshirt, but he has made great gains in getting in shape and so that thought may change early in the season.

Linebackers

Opening day starters should be Brandon Spikes in the middle, Ryan Stamper on the weak side, and A.J. Jones on the strong side. Jones has been the surprise of fall camp at the linebacker position as he has played well beyond expectations and better than ever. Dustin Doe will likely be suspended for at least two games.

Depth will be provided by Jon Bostic and Lorenzo Edwards, both will be able to play any of the three positions. Brendan Beal has come on lately and played well in the middle. Lerentee McCray remains on the strong side, but is approaching 240 pounds and is not as adept at running laterally. Jelani Jenkins has an ankle injury and we have not learned the full extent of that injury just yet.

Cornerback

The starting corners are the same as last year in Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden. If they play three corners, Jenkins should slide into the nickel with Wondy Pierre-Louis on the outside...or Markihe Anderson has been coming on very strong as of late, so he could play the nickel keeping Janoris on the outside. This was the most improved position on the team a year ago and all indications are that these guys have made big leaps again on the field and will be even more improved.

We haven't mentioned Adrian Bushell or moses Jenkins and I think both could have a great fall if they got to play a lot.

Nickelback

Even though i mentioned it above, this position deserves it's on slot because it will get a lot of play and have a lot of different looks to it. The starting nickel will likely be either Janoris Jenkins or Will hill and that will likely be dependent on the team and receiver playing in the slot. If it is an athletic play making receiver, expect Janoris or Markihe in there. If it is a bigger possession type of receiver, expect Will Hill to play that slot position. The Gators have to like their flexibility at the position as well as almost everywhere on defense.

Safety

This is most likely the hottest contested two spots on the field right now. The other defenders will tell you publicly that Will Hill is the best safety on the team, or at least he is practicing that way. But, as a coach, do you take a team leader like Major Wright off the field or a guy that had All-American numbers like Ahmad Black last season? It's a tough choice, but from what we understand Hill keeps making it harder and harder to leave him off of the field.

Joe Haden piped in on the fight at the safety position, earlier last week.

(Major) doesn't have anything to worry about because every time he is on the field he does his job, Haden said in response to someone asking about the younger guys playing well at the safety position. "The same thing with Will and Ahmad."

Later on Haden added this remark.

"Will Hill looks the best on the whole defense to me," Haden said. "Spikes and I have talked about it."

He understands there will be a tough decision to make.

"I have no idea, I leave that to the coaches," he said in reference as to who will start. "That is why they coach."

Dee Finley and Josh Evans are the two backups here. Finley will get a lot of reps in the first two games in my opinion. Dorian Munroe should be back shortly after the Tennessee game and I see Finley not playing much after that this season. They both should play on special teams this season.

Special Teams

It is no accident that the Gators normally have really good to great special teams. Urban Meyer devotes a lot of practice time to special teams to make them better. But, there are also some special players that make the special teams, well....special.

Returners

We all know that Brandon James is the return man and will likely go down as the best the Gators have ever had at returning punts and kicks. He is over his late season injury that slowed him down a bit last year and I think primed for a huge year to finish off his Gator career.

Behind him on kickoffs should be Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Janoris Jenkins.

Look for Emmanuel Moody to be one of the lead blockers that lines up deep with James. Moody or Riley Cooper will be the main two pulling that duty. If they want to go tricky, they will throw in a Demps or Rainey to match up with James.

James is the main punt returner of course and I believe Janoris Jenkins might be the second guy that will return punts. Chris Rainey is also in the mix.

Kickers

Jonathan Phillips returns for his fifth year after an All-SEC type campaign in 2008. However,Caleb Sturgis has really made a move this fall and Meyer has not named a definite place kicker yet. Expect these two to share duties in the first couple of games.

Punter

Chas Henry is another All-SEC type candidate as a punter. He may the best punter the Gators have had at planting the ball inside the 20 when given the chance to do so. One surprise in camp has been redshirt freshman punter David Lerner from Gainesville Buchholz. We watched him in the two open days of practice smacking 60 yarders over and over again. \

Long Snappers

three guys will be fighting for the long snapping duties with punts and place kicks. Junior John Fairbanks and senior Mike Williamson are the snappers for kicks and punts respectively. Freshman Christopher Guido has earned a good bit of rep for his play and will likely get some time in the first two games to see what he can do.

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