Five Most Important Defensive Freshmen

Losing six starters from last season's defense means there is plenty of playing time available. With the nation's top recruiting class coming in for the Gators, multiple freshmen will be counted on to play early.

5. Defensive tackle Shariff Floyd- Based on pure talent alone, Floyd would be near number one on this list. However, the depth chart doesn't make him one of the most important freshmen in this class.

Jaye Howard, Omar Hunter, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders come back, meaning the top four defensive tackles from 2009 will return. Floyd could take a redshirt in 2010, and the defensive tackle position for the Gators would still thrive.

But Floyd is too talented to redshirt. He will get playing time this season, as defensive line coach Dan McCarney loves to use a rotation to keep his linemen fresh. With Hunter and Marsh as the two nose tackles, neither is a great playmaker at the position. Floyd could turn into the pass rushing threat from the nose tackle spot and could see most of his playing time on third down.

4. Cornerbacks Joshua Shaw/Jaylen Watkins- Janoris Jenkins has one cornerback spot locked up, while Jeremy Brown and Moses Jenkins look to battle it out for the second spot. Past those three, it's wide open.

Shaw and Watkins both enrolled early and went through spring practices. The two will use the fall to battle it out for the second backup role and a spot on the two-deep.

Adrian Bushell's transfer forces the two freshmen into an even more important position. Both came to Florida expecting a chance to take the departed Joe Haden's starting position, but after each had an up-and-down spring, it now seems more likely they will see the field as backups. With Janoris Jenkins likely going to the NFL after this season, the two will have another open spot to fight for in 2011.

3. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley- The Staten Island (NY) product is likely a defensive tackle in college, but don't be surprised if that is put on hold for one season. With the strength in numbers the Gators have at defensive tackle, he would be a waste.

He split time between defensive end and defensive tackle while at Curtis High School. At the Under Armour All-American Game as a defensive end, Easley earned Team Black MVP honors after recording three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries, one sack and a fumble recovery. His 6-2, 250-pound frame gives him the physical ability to playing defensive end immediately in college.

The snaps he could play at defensive end would help out an already thin position. Marsh and Sanders will be gone for the 2011 season, and Howard could leave for the NFL, so Easley could make the transition back to defensive tackle when the 2010 season is completed.

2. Safety Matt Elam- Florida used a three-safety rotation in 2009, switching Major Wright, Will Hill and Ahmad Black in and out of the games to get equal playing time. It kept all three fresh and allowed them to play their best football in the fourth quarter.

Wright left for the NFL and was taken by in the third round by the Chicago Bears, which could help Elam get into the safety rotation. Head coach Urban Meyer already said during spring practice that Elam would play this fall, after he was easily the most impressive defensive freshman on the field.

Most of his time on the field came as the first team nickel. He is strong enough to jam wide receivers off the line, and his coverage skills are advanced enough to drop back and play pass coverage. Depending on the formation Miami (OH) opens with on September 4, Elam could be on the field from the first snap.

1.Defensive end Ronald Powell- Physically, there may not be a more impressive freshman in the country. For the Gators, there isn't a more important freshman on the team. When defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham were drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the duo took 39 career sacks with them. Justin Trattou is likely to take over on one side of the line, but he has recorded seven sacks in three seasons. Though he plays well against the run, pass rushing isn't his specialty.

That's where Powell comes in. He will push for a starting position from the first game of the season because he can provide the pass rushing ability that made him the top high school defensive end last year. With the outstanding careers they had, Dunlap and Cunningham combined for only one sack during their freshmen seasons.

The Gators need a pass rush threat. William Green could be the one who provides it, but from everything he has shown, Powell will be ready.

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