Five Players to Watch, Defense

The Gator defense was superb in 2009, but the Gators have lost their defensive coordinator, cornerbacks coach and four of their top five tacklers. The Gators have to replace their top two QB sackers (Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham), top two pass interceptors (Ahmad Black, Major Wright) and emotional leader Brandon Spikes.

Last year's Florida defense held every regular season opponent to 20 points or less, and five of them to seven points or less. The defense had a tough day in Atlanta against Alabama but bounced back to severely limit one of college football's most explosive units in the Sugar Bowl win over previously unbeaten Cincinnati.

Spring practice will begin the process of the Gators filling those voids outlined above. As a result there are probably a lot more than five guys to focus on, but again that is our charge.

Jon Bostic ---- The sophomore middle linebacker was a sensation during spring practice last year, but his playing time was limited on an extremely experienced Florida LB unit. However with Spikes, Ryan Stamper and Dustin Doe out of the picture there is a big opportunity this season. Bostic is the guy who can take over for Spikes without the Gators missing a beat and there's little doubt that's exactly what he will do. Still, until he does it the position remains a focal point.

Jaye Howard ---- The Gators have plenty of candidates at defensive tackle, but no one who combined the size, strength and speed of Howard. He could be a big time performer here, challenging Terron Sanders and Lawrence March for a starting spot, or he could be moved to DE where the Gators are a bit undermanned. Either way, Howard could be a difference maker.

Jeremy Brown ---- For two years we've heard about how Brown was ahead of Janoris Jenkins before he got hurt in the fall of 2008, but it's time for Brown to stay healthy and show it on the field. Joe Haden's departure for the NFL leaves a huge opening in the Gator secondary and Brown is going to be given an opportunity to fill it. Of course, Adrian Bushell has his eyes on the job, too.

Matt Elam ---- The highly touted and somewhat mercurial Elam is all Gator and it's time to see what he can do. Elam will immediately compete at safety where Florida has established starters in Ahmad Black and Will Hill but only one other scholarship player returning (Josh Evans). Bob Redman and others consider Elam the best player in this part of the country and if that's the case he will generate immediate attention.

William Green ---- He had 12 tackles and zero QB sacks in 2009. He had similar numbers with a single sack as a freshman in '08. Now the 6-3, 235-pound Alabama native has a chance to make a name for himself. Justin Trattou is likely to claim one DE spot but the other is there for the taking. Is Green ready to take charge of the position and give Florida a legit speed rush on the corner? It's one of the most important questions facing this team.

Just like with the offense, you could make a case for other guys to focus on, but there are the ones in the areas of immediate need. Still, I'm just as eager to check out Jelani Jenkins and Dee Finley as well as freshmen Jordan Haden, Jaylen Watkins and Josh Shaw.

Is it March 17 yet?

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