Defensive Staff Simulating Their Roles

Saturday's scrimmage didn't involve multiple reps for veteran players or installing critical plays to the offense. Instead, the younger players saw most of the snaps. The most important happenings came on the sideline, as new Florida assistant coaches worked in a game-simulated environment to practice their duties during the season.

"We've been practicing those game-like situations, signaling in from the sideline and getting mechanics ready," Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "Today was another rehearsal for us. I think we're coming along in that area."

The rehearsal at linebacker continues to be for playing time. Linebackers coach D.J. Durkin has said nothing about starters or playing time, saying throughout camp that everyone at the position is in the running to start.

Austin said Saturday that the Gators now have four starting linebackers. They will take the field with only three linebackers on most plays, but A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks, Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic will all play enough that they will be looked at as starters.

"We have them all as starters," Austin said. "Those guys are all starters in my eyes. Neiron Ball is going to play. He's really had an outstanding camp as a young guy. I would expect to see him contribute at some point. I feel confident with any of those guys on the field."

Jones and Hicks will see most of the time at outside linebacker. Jenkins and Bostic have battled through the fall for the middle linebacker spot. Regardless of who wins the starting position, both players can also slide outside.

Jenkins "runs like crazy," and even though Bostic has a bigger frame, he could play any of the linebacker positions as well.

It does seem like Jenkins is the favorite for the middle linebacker position.

"He's made improvements in terms of his reads and keys," Austin said. "He's always shown great burst. For a linebacker, it's more than that. He really looks fast now when he diagnoses plays."

Ball won't be counted on for big minutes this fall, but his play since coming to campus for spring practice has been good enough to earn playing time. His speed is an attribute the Florida coaches can't teach.

"He really has a chance to be a dynamic player with some seasoning," Austin said. "He's one of the young players that really stood out in camp."

The battle for the second cornerback continues between Jeremy Brown and Moses Jenkins. The winner will be determined before Saturday's season opener, but the coaches don't see it as important. The player who doesn't win the job will still be on the field plenty of time.

"They're really even," Austin said. "I really like the progress (Jeremy) has made after not playing football for a couple years. Either one of those guys will start, and I don't think there will be a drop off regardless of who is the starter. They've both done some quality things for us in camp."

If Brown wins the job as the starting cornerback, Matt Elam will serve as the starting nickel for the Gators. If Brown doesn't win the cornerback job, then he will still see the field as the starting nickel. The secondary will have plenty of depth.

"Matt is going to be working in there," Austin said. "He and Jeremy worked in at the nickel position. That's a position right off the bat that he'll be available for us."

Austin wouldn't say whether the battle for the starting cornerback and linebacker positions were still up in the air, or if they had been decided and were being kept quiet.

"It's a little bit keeping it close to the vest," Austin said.

The Florida defense will improve as a whole if the defensive ends can get pressure. If they can't, Austin and the Florida defensive staff will be forced to get creative.

With 39 career sacks gone to the NFL with Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap, the burden now falls to Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens to replace their presence.

"Justin and Duke have been running with the first group and I don't see that changing right now," Austin said. "Those guys give up great effort and great energy. They're tenacious guys."

However, there is another player starting to make some noise.

"A guy who is starting to step up is Lerentee McCray," Austin said. "He's got to be more consistent as a player."

McCray moved from linebacker to defensive end during last season. He is just now starting to get comfortable at the position and making a push for playing time.

"He's gotten better in his technique," Austin said. "He used to be a run-around guy. He's gotten better in his technique, which allows him to play a little better in our defense. That's where he's starting to make some strides."

At defensive tackle, the Gators will have a rotation that could be as many as seven players deep. Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard are running as the first-team defensive tackles and have been throughout camp.

"Omar has been tremendous," Austin said. "When I got here in the spring, I didn't know much about him other than what I saw on tape. He was impressive in the spring and continued to work in the offseason. I thought he was one of the guys that had one of the more consistent camps."

Lawrence Marsh, Brandon Antwine and Terron Sanders are all healthy and providing experience off the bench. Sanders and Marsh were the starting defensive tackles on the 2008 national championship team, giving the Gators players off the bench who have played in big games.

"To play 60 snaps as a nose in the SEC, they'll wear you out in there," Austin said. "We've got to be fresh. We have four guys in there that we consider starters. They have to give us 20-30 snaps a game."

Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley have made noise in camp as freshmen. Their performances have earned them playing time this year, although the coaching staff doesn't know how often they will see the field.

"Those guys have worked hard and earned some playing time," Austin said. "What that is right off the bat, we're not quite sure. They've earned some playing time."


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