Offense has been the talk of the town in Gainesville with a new coordinator and a new scheme taking over. While the offense will be under the microscope on Saturday and again this fall, the heart and soul of the Florida Gators is the defense.
Operating in the shadow of the offense this spring, the defense has worked on replacing key starters in Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins, Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.
Consistency is what the defensive staff has preached to the team. Be consistent in what you do, play fast, play hard, play Gator football.
With fresh faces stepping into starting roles and old faces taking on new leadership positions the Gators defense will look decidedly different this fall. They’ll take the field on Saturday to show Gator Nation that the sum is greater than the parts lost.
Here are five players that fans need to pay attention to this Saturday as they are the players who will be counted on to return the Gator defense back to the top of the SEC.
Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler has looked like an absolute beast when he’s been on the field this spring. For much of spring, Fowler’s reps have been closely monitored — much like Dominique Easley’s were last season — but when he’s been on the field he’s been unstoppable.
Fowler represents Florida’s biggest threat as a pass rusher and he is critical for the defense to be successful this season.
Neal missed most of spring practice with a hamstring injury but he will start in the Orange and Blue Debut. Neal took the spot of senior safety Jabari Gorman and is a player that the coaching staff has a lot of trust in even though he doesn’t have a lot of playing experience.
Neal is a fast, physical player who will deliver the kind of bone crushing, jarring tackles that will endear him to fans. If he’s healthy, 2014 looks like it will be a coming out party for the talented sophomore.
Replacing Dominique Easley is no easy task and not a task that one player will be able to fill in 2014. However, with Leon Orr sitting out the spring with a wrist injury, Cummings has had to fill that role by himself.
Cummings has played mainly nose tackle this spring but will play both nose and defensive tackles this fall. The chance to work extensively inside at nose tackle will help him in the fall and the versatility he brings to the table will be beneficial to the defense.
Duke Dawson/Jalen Tabor
The early enrollee cornerback duo is entrenched in a battle for the starting cornerback spot across from Vernon Hargreaves. With how much the Gators play nickel, both of these freshmen will be counted on to play heavy minutes this fall and they have risen to the challenge this spring.
Tabor was the favorite to earn a starting role but Dawson has pushed him every day this spring. The battle between the two of them is so close and too soon to call. Fans will be able to decide for themselves when the youngsters walk into the Swamp as Gators for the first time on Saturday.
The least ballyhooed of the four linebackers that committed to Florida in 2013, Davis made the biggest impact as a freshman. Davis has kept the ball rolling this spring, earning a spot next to Antonio Morrison on the first team.
Davis has been praised by his coaches for being a smart player who puts in the extra work on his own. Fans won’t see Davis spending extra time in the film room but what they will see is how the heavy hitter benefits from that extra work on the field this Saturday and all fall. Davis has the talent and work ethic to become one of the best linebacker Florida has had in recent years.