As a part of a two-part series, Dan Thompson will analyze the Florida Gators current two-deep. This analysis will include an examination of the holes in the two-deep, the balance of the two-deep, and where younger players and 2014 signees could plug in.
The Florida defense is the only reason that Florida is 4-7, as strange as that sounds, and the only reason that Florida should be 6-3. Unfortunately, they have been let down by the offense and they could only sustain for so long. Over the past few weeks, the lack of offensive production, coupled with injuries and different offensive styles, Florida’s defense has shut down. After giving up an average of only 278 yards per game during the first nine games, the Gators have given up an average of 403 yards over the last two games, including 429 rushing to Georgia Southern.
The Gators have had their fair share of injuries on the defense including the loss of freshmen Matt Rolin and Nick Washington, senior leader Dominique Easley, and special teams player Jeremi Powell for the season. The Gators have also seen Damien Jacobs, Ronald Powell, Darrin Kitchens, Alex Anzalone, Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy go down for at least part of the season.
With the season a wash, let’s take a look at what next years’ two-deep could look like, but first let’s look at the current breakdown.
|Defensive End||Jonathan Bullard (SO)||Bryan Cox (RS FR)|
|Defensive End||Dante Fowler, Jr. (SO)||Alex McCalister (RS FR)|
|Defensive Tackle||Darious Cummings (JR)||Jay-nard Bostwick (FR)|
|Defensive Tackle||Leon Orr (RS JR)||Damien Jacobs (SR)|
|Linebacker||Ronald Powell (RS JR)||Darrin Kitchens (SR)|
|Linebacker||Neiron Ball (RS JR)||Michael Taylor (RS JR)|
|Linebacker||Michael Taylor (RS JR)||Alex Anzalone (FR)|
|Cornerback||Vernon Hargreaves (FR)||Marcus Roberson (JR)|
|Cornerback||Loucheiz Purifoy (JR)||Marcus Roberson (JR)|
|Safety||Jaylen Watkins (SR)||Marcus Maye (RS FR)|
|Safety||Cody Riggs (RS JR)||Jabari Gorman (JR)|
I am going to analyze this as a collective group because I think the Gators are just fine at this position with Bullard and Fowler leading the group. While Fowler’s statistics may not jump off the page at you, he has often been double-teamed and has been involved in quite a few plays indirectly, but is quietly having a much better year than people are giving him credit for. On paper, Fowler has 29 solo tackles, 18 assisted tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss (leading the team), 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. Bullard, on the season, has 17 tackles, 11 assisted tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and four quarterback hurries. Both players will continue to anchor the end position.
Behind Bullard and Fowler, Bryan Cox and Alex McCalister are having very quiet years, but have not yet been asked to do much. I expect them both to continue to improve, but likely will not have much of a shot until either head to the NFL early or graduate.
Expected two deep: Jon Bullard, Bryan Cox // Dante Fowler, Jr., Alex McCalister
Again, the status quo should remain the same with Leon Orr and Darious Cummings starting next year, after Dominique Easley announced he would be heading to the NFL. On the season, Orr has 15 tackles, five assisted tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Orr has been a good space eater, but has struggled to play consistently across the board. Florida will rely on Orr to be much more of a force next year and will need him to be involved on more plays. Cummings, in his first year at UF, has seven tackles, five assisted tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one pass broken up, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Cummings, who replaced Easley, has been serviceable, but just like Orr will need to improve his push past the offensive line and get involved more in the backfield.
The Gators will hope Jay-nard Bostwick can improve as a back up with another year under his belt and will hope that upcoming redshirt freshman Caleb Brantley is ready to make an impact and move into a back-up role as Damien Jacobs will be graduating. Incoming freshman Khairi Clark could also have a role in the line-up should he come ready to play. In my opinion, Clark is the most talented the threesome of him, Bostwick and Brantley.
Expected two deep: Leon Orr, Jay-nard Bostwick // Darious Cummings, Caleb Brantley
Powell has moved almost strictly into a linebacker role and has had a very hot and cold season. Some plays, Powell wows you by getting into the backfield and making the sack, and yet on another he simply blows coverage, which leaves you shaking your head. Powell only has 17 tackles on the season; seven assisted tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks and eight quarterback hurries. Powell, who many would have told you would probably leave after the season, will now likely stay at UF. Darrin Kitchens, who backs-up Powell, is graduating has had a mediocre final season with 10 tackles and seven assisted tackles.
With Powell likely staying, who will back him up? While Florida plays in so many different formations that it hardly matters, I expect to see Daniel McMillian, who is redshirting this year, to be his primary back up. McMillian is excelled in the spring and should prove to be a very serviceable back up as he prepares to move into a starting role next year.
Expected two deep: Ronald Powell, Daniel McMillian
Neiron Ball has had a good, not great, season. Ball has 10 tackles on the season, 11 assisted tackles, and one pass broken up, but Ball has been involved in more plays than it looks like. Ball is the most “rangy” linebacker and can cover the field much better than Powell or Taylor. Ball will be coming back next season for his final season for the Gators and should be backed up by freshman Jarrad Davis, whom has proven to be the best of the freshmen linebacking corp. Davis, who has played mostly special teams, has 14 solo tackles and five assisted tackles with one forced fumble in just six games. Expect to see a lot of Davis next season.
Expected two deep: Neiron Ball, Jarrad Davis
Starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison went out for the season and Michael Taylor assumed his role, filling in just fine, perhaps even better than Morrison. Taylor led the team in tackles with 30 solo tackles, 32 assisted tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one pass broken up and three quarterback hurries. Before his injury, Morrison has 27 tackles, 29 assisted tackles, one tackle for loss, and two quarterback hurries. Both Morrison and Taylor had trouble securing the middle of the field and getting into the backfield. The Gators will need each player to step up next season if the Gators hope to improve on defense.
Expected two deep: Antonio Morrison OR Michael Taylor
Again pairing the position because of the constant change of cornerbacks and nickel backs. I fully expect former starter Marcus Roberson and current starter Loucheiz Purifoy to declare early for the draft, although, in my opinion, both are not ready. Roberson needs to become better in coverage and Purifoy needs to improve in coverage and in tackling. Purifoy’s name precedes his reputation and is actually not a first round talent as a cornerback – as an athlete he may be worth the pick, but certainly not as a cornerback.
With that in mind, Vernon Hargreaves will start no matter if one or both decide to come back. Hargreaves is the best talent the Gators have had at cornerback since Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden and will likely end up better than both. On the season, Hargreaves has 23 tackles, 12 assisted tackles, 10 pass break-ups and three interceptions.
Opposing Hargreaves will be a collection of cornerbacks with Brian Poole likely leading the way, followed by Nick Washington, Quincy Wilson and JC Jackson.
Next year will be interesting for the Gators at cornerback because behind Hargreaves and Poole, the Gators are very inexperienced.
Expected two deep: Vernon Hargreaves, Quincy Wilson // Brian Poole, Nick Washington
Again, the Gators play each safety in a multiple packages that they might as well be grouped together. Cornerback turned safety Jaylen Watkins had a good final season with 30 tackles, 19 assisted tackles, and had seven passes broken up. Although he did not have any interceptions, Watkins was in a position to make plays often and earned himself a better chance at being drafted.
The Gators should expect to see Cody Riggs return and hope to see him continue to improve on his 28 solo tackles, 19 assisted tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 3 passes broken up. Riggs played the strong safety position more often than not and was in the backfield quite a bit – something he can still continue to work on.
Jabari Gorman has also played well, and as I’ve said before, reminds me of Ahmad Black. Next season, I expect to see Gorman really step out of the shadows and prove he is a legitimate safety. On the season, Gorman had 27 tackles, 21 assisted, 2.5 tackles for loss, one interception, seven passes broken up and one forced fumble. Gorman has earned his spot as a starter.
Playing behind Riggs and Gorman, expect to see Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal assume those roles. Maye played sparingly in seven games this season and currently has eight tackles and four assisted tackles. Maye showed that he can move well on the field, although he still needs work diagnosing plays. Keanu Neal played mostly on special teams and had five total tackles on the season in five games. I like Neal’s game a lot and I think he could become a major force in the backfield, similar to Major Wright.
Expected two deep: Cody Riggs, Keanu Neal // Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye
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On paper, the Gators have the makings of a great defense again. The Gators need to have increased production in the middle (tackles, middle linebacker, safety) and need to continue to improve across the board on wrapping up tackles.