A look at Florida's defense

Florida defensive lineman Marcus Thomas began the season like the kid who always had to sit in the back seat of the school bus…disruptive. Thomas sat out the first game of the year, but came ready to play last Saturday as he recorded a pair of sacks and manhandled the Golden Knights offensive line.

Marcus Thomas (6-3 296) saw limited action in practice in August, but when he was inserted into the lineup, he was a tough task for Florida's inexperienced offensive line. Thomas has great quickness, speed, and athleticism for a man his size. The senior has four tackles on the season- two tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

He plays alongside a pair of senior tackles in Joe Cohen (6-2 296) and reserve Steven Harris (6-5 285) who possess strength, athleticism, and speed. Cohen has accumulated a couple of tackles, a tackle for loss, and broken up a pass. Harris was a starter last season, but was suspended by the coaching staff until he got his priorities in order. Junior Clint McMillan (6-1 285) plays a key reserve role. McMillan is a former middle linebacker at Oviedo High School who has good speed and runs very well.

The Gators have tremendous speed and athleticism at defensive end. Senior Ray McDonald (6-3 280) has returned from having both knee's rebuilt. He is not full speed yet, but the coaches expect him to shake off the rust in one of the upcoming games and begin to once again reach his potential. Still, 80-90% of McDonald is better than most players. His leadership is also a boon for the defense.

You can't begin talking about tremendous quickness, speed, and potential without mentioning the name of Jarvis Moss (6-6 251). The junior has bulked up over the off-season and has yet to tap into the wealth of his potential. His first step off the ball is unreal. Moss' quickness is reminiscent of Georgia's Quinton Moses. Obviously, Moss hasn't yet produced to the level of Moses. Redshirt sophomore Derrick Harvey (6-5 252) is another end with speed and quickness. However, his experience is even more limited than Moss.

Brandon Siler (6-2 235) is one of the Gators tremendously experienced linebackers. Siler led Florida with six stops against Southern Miss. Describing Siler is rather easy. The All-SEC selection is simply a great football player who might even be a better leader. He is currently third on the team with eight tackles, including a tackle for loss, and quarterback hurry.

Weakside linebacker Earl Everett (6-3 234) is another centerpiece to an extremely talented defense. Everett can run, hit, and has a nose for the football as evidenced by his eight tackles. He should garner plenty of votes for the all conference team after the season.

Brian Crum (6-3 235) mans the strongside linebacker position as a starter for the first time in his career. The senior has seen significant action on special teams throughout his Florida career. Crum played tight end early in his career and moved to linebacker in '03 where he saw very little action as a reserve outside linebacker. There is plenty of talent playing behind them, but no experience. True freshmen Brandon Spikes (6-3 240) and Dustin Doe (6-0 215) have been impressive in practice and saw some playing time thus far. The Gators are in trouble if they lose Siler or Everett.

Overview: Experience, talent, and along the defensive line, some depth. Florida has toiled with depth problems up front for many years, but this is (finally) one year where Gators fans can rest assured that the level of play will be among the best in college football. Ray McDonald can play up or down giving the Gators additional quality. Siler and Everett are the only experienced linebackers at Florida. They must stay healthy.

I don't think we've seen all that this defense is capable of doing. I would expect to see a few more surprises from the Florida defense.

Secondary

Florida received an incredible boost when cover corner Ryan Smith (5-10 165) graduated and transferred to Florida from Utah this summer. He has been a blessing in the wake of Avery Atkins departure. Smith has been praised by coaches for picking up exactly where he left off. Smith has terrific cover skills and there was no learning curve as he has a fine understanding of the defense.

Playing the opposite corner is senior Reggie Lewis (5-10 196), who is best remembered for making the play of the game against Vanderbilt a year ago. Lewis has good speed, has improved his cover skills dramatically, and solid hands. Lewis is a former wide receiver who started several games in place of the injured Vernell Brown last year. He has an interception, which he returned for 35 yards.

Strong safety Tony Joiner (6-0 208) leads the team in tackles with 10. He also has two tackles for loss, has broken up a pass, and has an interception to his credit. The junior packs a wallop. Joiner is a first year starter, who has seen quite a bit of time on special teams and as a reserve.

The most feared member of the Florida secondary is free safety Reggie Nelson (6-1 193). The junior is a fantastic football player who brings speed, quickness, football savvy, and hits like a brick. Furthermore, Nelson can do it all- play cover corner, strong, free, or nickel equally well. He has also picked off a pass this season.

Reserve safety Kyle Jackson (6-1 200) was a starter as a freshman, who struggled last season. However, he is playing very well and figures to be the first man out playing safety when Florida goes nickel.

Overview: The Gators first team guys are solid. Very solid. However, other than Kyle Jackson, there isn't any experienced depth to speak of. That is particularly true at corner where the numbers have been thin. This team will face their toughest challenge in Erik Ainge and a talented group of receivers. Personally, I think the match-ups between the Vols wideouts and the Gators secondary will provide perhaps the most intense battles of the game.

Analysis: The Gators are tied for third in the conference in total defense. The Vols are third in total offense. Much of the Vols damage has been through the air. Quarterback Erik Ainge is the top rated passer in the league. He has had ample time to throw because the Tennessee offensive front has yet to give up a sack. Florida will obviously stress that fact in practice and hope to change that policy.

Ainge also has a solid corps of receivers, led by Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain- two of the best in the conference. For pure entertainment value keep an eye on the Tennessee passing game versus the Florida secondary.


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