Spring Evaluation: Defensive Tackles

We continue our look at how the 2010 Gator defense shapes up heading into the off-season with part two of our five part series. It bears repeating that 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.

Today we take a look at defensive tackle, followed by linebacker, cornerback and safety. In each installment 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 ---- While DE lost more than any other position for the Gators, DT has virtually nothing to replace from 2009. Oh there are guys who are gone, but they won't be missed. Troy Epps was a JC transfer who played very little, totaling five tackles in seven games. Another JC guy, Edwin Herbert appeared in just one game in his first Gator season and has already moved on. Florida also dismissed freshman Gary Brown.

Best returning player ---- Jaye Howard is one of the few underclassmen on the Florida team with a legit chance to turn pro with a big season. He has gradually improved throughout his first three campaigns and should be poised for an outstanding season. He has the size, speed and strength to keep playing for a long time, but he has to improve on his 29 tackles and just three of them for loss.

Other returning tackles ---- If they can get them all healthy, Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney will have a treasure trove of tackles to rotate in and out of games this fall. Start with Omar Hunter who made big strides last fall and add in seniors Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh and that should be about as good a two deep as anyone in the country will return this season. Another season Brandon Antwine has been hurt more than not in his career plus you have the huge physical presence of Earl Okine. Okine moved from end to tackle, and it might be time to move him (or someone) back considering the depth at the two positions. That's six defensive tackles with ability and experiences for a starting point.

Coming attractions ---- Florida may not need immediate help at tackle, but there are three big reasons to expect them to get it. Leon Orr enrolled early but was injured and could not take part in spring drills. The 6-4, 324-pounder is imposing to look at. So, too is incoming freshman Sharif Floyd (6-3/311) who was dominant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Add in cat quick Dominique Easley and you have three of the top eight defensive tackles in the country in the same recruiting class. That's simply remarkable.

The Bottom Line ---- To me this is the strongest and deepest position on the defense. If everyone is healthy Florida can comfortably plan on getting solid play from a half dozen defensive tackles. Add in three of the best freshman in the country and you have the makings of an exceptional unit. I suggested Okine might get a look outside again this fall and that might be an option with Easley as well. With questions abounding at DE, the guys at DT have to do more than clog the middle. The Gators will need significantly improved push up the middle in passing situations.

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

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