Spring Evaluation: Defensive Ends

Now that Bob has concluded his look at each unit on the Gator offense, it's my turn to look at how the defense shapes up heading into the off-season. Florida faces a major challenge in rebuilding a defense that limited its first 12 opponents to 20 points or less and seven of them to 10 or less.

Florida had one of its best defenses ever in 2009 limiting opponents to about 100 yards on the ground and just 153 through the air. The Gators surrendered just 16 touchdowns in 14 games.

First up on our assessment is defensive end, followed by defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety. We'll break it down pretty simply. What each unit lost, who is the best returning player, what other veterans need to step up and coming attractions. For purposes of this analysis we'll consider the guys who enrolled early as "veterans" if they saw significant playing time this spring.


What was lost ---- No Florida unit was hit harder than this one which lost two stalwarts to the NFL in Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham. Dunlap was the flashy one with the off-the-charts physical gifts while Cunningham was Mr. Reliable and the superior player game in and game out. Dunlap (9.0) led Cunningham (7.0) in QB sacks, but Cunningham (12.0) had more total tackles for losses. Over their careers each had 19.5 sacks and Cunningham (152) had far more tackles than Dunlap (84). There are plenty of reasons why these guys were second round picks and they will tough to replace.

Best returning player ---- Justin Trattou has played the most of Florida's returning defensive ends with 64 tackles, 15 of them for loss including seven QB sacks over his career. Trattou is not an explosive play-making sort of guy, but he's consistent, sturdy and reliable. He'll perform more like Cunningham than Dunlap and that's just fine. He does need to generate more than the two sacks he had last season.

Other returning ends ---- William Green's time has come. If he's going to be the impact player he was projected to be when he was being recruited we'll see it this fall. Green has just one sack in his career. Duke Lemmens is now a senior and he has double the QB sacks that Green does for his career. Kedric Johnson missed most of the spring so we don't know much about him and Lerentee McCray is a converted linebacker who seems unlikely to be a major impact player.

Coming attractions ---- Perhaps no summer enrollee comes in with greater expectations than Ronald Powell. The Californian resembles Kevin Carter physically and Gator fans can only hope he has as productive a college career. Powell will get every opportunity to show he can generate a pass rush. Lynden Trail has a lot of growing to do, but you gotta love the potential in that wingspan.

The Bottom Line ---- To me this is the weakest position on the defense and one of the two weakest on the entire football team along with TE. Florida can count on solid play here, but great teams get big plays from DE, especially in the pass rush and you gotta question where that's going to come from. If Florida can't get consistent pass rush here they might become a big time "zone blitz" type defense.

Next, we'll evaluate the situation for the Gators at defensive tackle.

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