The Florida Gators will start fall camp on Thursday and report to camp on Wednesday which means that football is officially back.
Gator Country will break down the Florida Gators football team in a two part podcast series which we will break down into offense and defense.
In the first edition, Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre broke down the offense and in this edition, we will break down the defensive side of the ball.
Andrew: What’s up, Gator Country? I’m back, Andrew Spivey. Last time we talked some offensive ball, this time we’re going to go talk some defensive ball. Defensive football in Gator Country, that’s kind of been what it is. Nick, offense is talked about. Defense is there. I feel like we could just say look back at the last few years and we could be okay with it, but the people want us to talk about it. So here we are.
Nick: Right. You’re missing a lot of the big names. Ronald Powell’s gone. Dominic Easley’s gone. Janoris Jenkins, Sharrif Floyd, Dante Fowler. These guys that created what the defense is and what the fans expect the defense to be, they’re gone.
Andrew: Hold on. I hear something knocking. It’s Vernon Hargreaves. It’s Jonathan Bullard. It’s Mr. Wyoming Man.
Nick: Wyoming Wild Man, yeah. What I was saying is that while the attention is on the offense, because there is more work to do on offense, and you have a new offensive minded head coach, there is another half of the football team that needs attention as well.
Andrew: I agree. I can see what you’re saying. The big name firepower that you think about on the lines of Easley, Floyd, Fowler, those guys, they’re gone. I continue to say, and I’ve said it for the last few months, Jonathan Bullard’s going to have a big year. He’ll probably make himself into a first run draft pick. I’m here to say it, and I’ll continue to say it until he proves me wrong. We’ll see what goes on. I think that you’re looking at the best secondary in the country. I don’t care what LSU people say. It is what it is when you have a guy like Vernon Hargreaves and a guy like Keanu Neal, those guys. You got guys that are good.
Let’s just go right at it. We’ll stop the chit chat, and we’ll go right at it. Let’s go to the defensive line I think that you’re looking at probably a rotation somewhere of Taven Bryan, Jonathan Bullard, Caleb Brantley, Alex McCalister. What do you think on those four?
Nick: I think you got to slide Caleb Brantley back. I still think it’s going to be Joey Ivie instead of Caleb Brantley there next to Taven Bryan. I think before we even start, I know when I was breaking down the two deep people were asking about a Sam linebacker. Geoff Collins is a smart man. He sees what his secondary is, sees that they’re low on numbers at linebacker. Florida’s base defense is going to be a nickel, and they’re going to play lots of dime. There’s going to be a lot of defensive backs on the field. When you start mixing that up when it pertains to the defensive line, they have a position that they call the rush position, which is sort of like the buck in Will Muschamp’s defense. Guys that are going to slide into that are going to be like an Alex McCalister and a Jordan Sherit. Then as far as defensive line, I think Jon Bullard will be playing mainly defensive end, but obviously still a guy that is versatile, slide him into defensive tackle as well. Then I think that’ll be my four then. I’ll have Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Joey Ivie, Taven Bryan on the inside.
Andrew: Let me go back. Let me hit on your point real quick about the no Sam linebacker. Sam linebacker is almost becoming extinct in football, not just in college defense, but in everybody’s defense, simply because of the style of play that is being used. You look at even Alabama, Nick Sabin’s defense who he really likes using four linebackers in that 3-4 defense, but it just doesn’t happen anymore because it simply is everybody’s running spread offenses now to where you need that extra guy, whether it be a safety moving down to play that nickel or as an extra cornerback. You’re needing that extra defensive back on the field.
Nick: Florida’s going to play two teams this year that are going to focus on pounding the ball in the ground. That’s LSU and Georgia. You’ll get them in back to back games, but other than that, New Mexico State wants to throw the ball east to west to open up the running game. East Carolina’s the spread, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ole Miss, all of these teams are moving to a spread. You don’t need three linebackers. You need more speed on the field to be able to defend sideline to sideline.
Andrew: Right. Which works out perfectly for Florida. Let’s go a little bit here. Let’s change it. You got your four guys that you think will play a lot. I think, then you start to look at Caleb Brantley. Brantley’s going to play a lot. I think that you will see Cece Jefferson play a lot with Jon Bullard. I think you’ll see Jabari Zuniga play a lot as a freshman. I think Thomas Holley’s a question mark of how well the hip does. Does his hip hold up? It’s always going to be a problem, but is he able to play any? It’s a question mark. Is Khairi Clark back in shape again, or ever in shape? That’s a question mark. Is Bryan Cox fully healthy from his hip injury to be that second rush end guy? There’s your question marks.
Nick: Yeah. I think Bryan Cox is also a guy that will factor in a lot, somebody who kind of came into his own a little bit last year as his role increased, going into a redshirt junior season now. I think he fits in at defensive end, strong side defensive end behind Jon Bullard. Then, again, Cece Jefferson is a guy that I’ve continued to say it, somebody that will get a limited role in the beginning of the year, and then see that role expand and expand as the year goes on. I do think Caleb Brantley has to factor in. It’s a very physical position in the most physical league in the country. There will be a solid rotation. To say that I’ve listed my four starters, what about everyone else? There will be a rotation. Caleb Brantley’s going to be in that rotation. Khairi Clark if he’s in shape will be in that rotation. Thomas Holley if healthy will be in that rotation, and Andrew Ivie obviously split over the offensive line, but his brother Joey. We keep hearing nothing but good things about him. There’s a lot of talent here, and I think the big question mark is talent and potential, can those two things meet and create something special for the defensive line this year?
Andrew: I agree completely. You talk about Cece being he’s going to have a limited role. That’s kind of every freshman so-called defensive end. You’re going to let him go in on third down when it’s pin your ears back and go knock the crap out of the quarterback. That’s going to be his role in the New Mexico game, the ECU game, probably the Kentucky game. Then as he gets more comfortable, the FIU game, the FSU game, those games you may see him get in there as more of a role of when you can maybe slide a Jon Bullard inside the defensive tackle some with Taven Bryan to be your third down rush guys. Bullard can still rush on third down for defensive tackle and be perfectly fine. I think you’ll see that. I’ve said it all along, I said it when Zuniga was signed. He’s going to play. The guy is a stud. He will play. How much he plays, I don’t know, but he will play. I’m willing to say that he will, almost as a definite statement right now.
Nick: That is a guy that I’ve been, not down on, but wasn’t sure what kind of impact he’d be able to make this year, and I think you and I both have been told that the staff really likes him. I’m still not completely convinced. I still think he’s got a little bit of growing to do, but we will see soon, very soon.
Andrew: This will be one of those guys where we when we do our little wagers will be on the table, because Zuniga is playing this year. Mark it down folks. Let’s go to linebacker here. You look at the linebacker position, kind of took a little bit of a hit when Keivonnis Davis didn’t qualify. I say took a hit, took a hit from a depth standpoint, but I think your main question goes to Morrison. You and I both know he’s rehabbing. He’s rehabbing well. Does he get in in game three like we’ve been told? Does he get in game four? Does he get in game two? That’s to be seen. He’s done his rehab, hasn’t hit the football field yet, so us saying he’s going to play this year that would be simply us speculating right now. We don’t know. You’re not going to know until it gets in the season. I think you almost have to go into the season thinking whatever we get out of him is a plus.
I think you start to look at Anzalone. He’s going to start. Jarrad Davis is going to start. Anthony Harrell will probably be your third guy in the rotation. Again, it’s like you said defensive line, linebacker’s going to rotate. Anthony Harrell will be your guy to rotate in, and then probably McMillian in my opinion. Would you kind of agree with those four?
Nick: Yeah. I think it really starts with Alex Anzalone, the way he was able to take on that leadership role as kind of the quarterback of the defense in the middle there. Then next to him is Jarrad Davis. After that, it kind of gets a little dicey. Daniel McMillian I think is a guy that you don’t really want him to be in coverage. You like what he can do against the run. You like what he can do as a Blitzer, maybe covering some of the flats, but if it starts to get into those intermediate routes, covering a tight end one on one, he’s not really a guy that you want doing that. You still have to see what Matt Rolin looks like. He definitely looked, and I can say, Matt Rolin looked the healthiest he has ever looked at Florida this past spring, but two ACL surgeries. That’s always in the back of your mind. What will he be once the bullets start flying, it’s live action?
I think Rayshad Jackson’s a guy that’s probably going to need a redshirt, in my opinion. Then you’ve got Antonio Morrison. When can he be back? Like you said, it would be speculating right now. You can’t count a guy like him, it’s an old Will Muschamp saying, so don’t shoot me for rehashing it, but football means a lot to Antonio Morrison. When you’re going through rehab you’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have dark days where you need to find something deep down inside of you to keep pushing through. Tearing an ACL is bad for you or me, and I can sit on the couch and do a lot of work. For a football player the rehab that they have to do to get back into that shape is grueling. So for somebody to say, football means a lot to him, that is going to push him through and is pushing him through this rehab process.
Andrew: You didn’t mention Anthony Harrell. He’s a guy that’s kind of like a Mason Halter, where he maybe doesn’t bring a ton from a physical standpoint. I think he does play, and I think he does help you. He’s a big guy. He came in at 6’2”, 237 pounds. He’s a guy that’s going to be a physical guy that’s going to be there, but he’s going to be a leader of your defense. Alex Anzalone, if he’s not the smartest football player on the team he probably is one of the smartest football players on the team, so leadership doesn’t necessarily apply to him, but to the young guys like a Morrison, a Jarrad Davis, a Rayshad Jackson, any of the younger guys, Rolin, Jeremi Powell, those guys. He’s going to be there to help, and I think he will see some time there. I think when you look at who you think is going to play I think you have to look at Anzalone, Davis, Harrell and McMillian, until Morrison gets back. I do think Morrison plays this year. I think it would be something crazy like a Ronald Powell rehurting his leg for him not to play. I think he just works too hard.
Nick: I do forget Harrell. It’s kind of easy to forget a guy that transfers in when you’ve been focusing in the spring around these guys that they were trying to piece together. Kind of like you said, with Harrell, it’s a position where you need him with young guys, not so much young, a guy like Alex Anzalone isn’t necessarily young, but as far as playing time and experience he’s young. To get a guy who’s a redshirt senior in, played the ACC, kind of lead, show guys what the preparation is in the film room, in the weight room, off the field, taking care of your body, going to sleep on time so that you’re not weightlifting at 5:00am on two hours of sleep, which then affects the rest of your day into practice and into class. There’s a ton of things that Harrell can do off the field that doesn’t necessarily translate to him being an All SEC linebacker, but a ton of ways that he can help the football team off the field as well.
Andrew: You didn’t mention one thing that he can help the team with.
Nick: What is that?
Andrew: He hates the Bulldogs, obviously. He’s a Yellow Jacket, so that should help things. He does have as many wins against the Bulldogs as the rest of the team does. Maybe he’s the good luck charm.
Nick: You don’t have to teach him to hate Georgia. That is already ingrained in him.
Andrew: Exactly. The Rambling Wreck from Tampa, but let’s go to the most talented secondary in the country in Jamal Adams, if you have a problem with it hit me up on Twitter. You go through the guys here that are just, I’m just going to name guys that I think are going to play. I think Duke Dawson plays as safety, whether he starts or he’s the next man off board at safety, he’s going to play. Vernon Hargreaves, best cornerback in the country. He’s going to start. Marcell Harris is a question mark. I say it every year. I’ll continue to say it. He can play ball. He can hit you like a Mack truck hits you. Is it coming on mentally and physically for him? I don’t know. Marcus Maye I’ve heard he’s coming on. I think that the lights are finally coming on up top for him. He’s the guy that’s going to play. KeKe, Keanu Neal, he’s going to start at safety. Brian Poole’s going to start in nickel. Tabor and Quincy, one of them is going to start at the other cornerback, and the other one’s going to come on.
I think to go back through that, I think you look at Quincy, Tabor, Vernon, and Poole as being your cornerbacks and KeKe, Keanu Neal, Duke Dawson, Marcus Maye, and Marcell Harris being the four guys that are likely going to factor in at safety.
Nick: Yeah. I think when you look at the roster, obviously Vernon Hargreaves has his spot. I don’t think there is a starter across from him. I think Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, the coaches will roll with the hot hand. Who had a better week at practice? What are the matchups like? Both guys will get a ton of playing time. Doesn’t matter who is named the starter there. Inside you’ve got Marcus Maye can play the dime. Duke Dawson can play the dime. You’re slot cornerback, your nickel, is going to be Brian Poole. Brian Poole they’ve even really tried to work him outside as well. That’s something that they tried to do last year as well, when you had a bunch of freshman at cornerback. You wanted to try to get some experience, a veteran out there on the outside. Brian Poole always ends up sliding back in, because that’s what he does well. No problem at cornerback.
At safety, Keanu Neal. Keanu Neal has the talent to be an All SEC safety, and then next to him we’ve heard good things about Marcus Maye. It seems like every off season we hear good things about Marcus Maye. It’s got to come down to what he does in the fall. Hopefully now as an older guy, a redshirt junior, maybe that light flips for him, the switch flips. Still, Marcus Maye, ton of talent, just needs to put it together in the fall. Marcell Harris, I have no answers. I loved Marcell Harris coming out of high school. He reminded me a lot of Major Wright, and for whatever reason, maybe the knee injury in high school, just hasn’t really been able to put it together. Then after that you’re kind of up in the air. You’ve got Nick Washington. Chris Williamson looked great when we saw him at Friday Night Lights. Then also, from Texas, the new safety. What’s his name?
Andrew: KC, Kylan Johnson.
Nick: There you go. Thank you. He looks like a linebacker. He is huge.
Andrew: He is. I think the thing that we go back and we talk about with Marcus Maye real quick is Marcus Maye’s never had a question mark about how athletic he was. It was just some of the things he did. You go back to the Miami game, biting on the play action after being told he was going to come. It was there. That’s never been a question mark. Maybe two years of playing in the system and being on the field, maybe that’s came on for him. He’s a big boy. He hits like a linebacker as well. Keanu Neal, I didn’t think he could get no bigger, but that joker’s big. That joker looks like an NFL football player already.
Again, Duke Dawson, he’s going to play. He’s going to give you what he’s going to give you. It’s kind of like a situation with Brian Poole. You know what he’s going to bring to the table. Is he going to make the spectacular play? Probably not, but is he going to make the play? Absolutely. Just like Brian Poole. Then as you say with Quincy and Jalen, you’re going to see times with both of those guys on the field, Quincy and Jalen, when you go to a dime defense of where you have six DBs on the field. You’re going to see him on the field. I think that whoever plays, whether it’s Jalen or Quincy, it won’t be a decision of Jalen’s better than Quincy or Quincy’s better than Jalen. It will simply be Jalen matches up better with him, or Quincy matches up better with him. Quincy showed it in the FSU game. He did really well. Jalen showed in other games he did really well. Both of them are good players all around. Again, as I said, Jamal Adams. There’s the best DB in the country.
Nick: Florida, in my opinion, my humble opinion, is DBU. I’m really excited to see Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Both of them had great freshman years. Each had a pick. Both of them had spectacular picks with Quincy’s diving interception of Jameis Winston. The one at Vanderbilt that Jalen Tabor had, the one handed catch in the end zone. Very talented players, didn’t shrink in the moment as freshmen. Now with that confidence and a year of experience under their belts, they’re going to be targeted, because people aren’t going to want to throw the ball to Vernon Hargreaves. So everybody else in the defensive secondary is on high alert. We’ve got a guy on the other side of the field that teams aren’t going to target, which means they’re coming your way. Be ready.
Andrew: Exactly. Again, I wouldn’t test those guys. You got to test somebody, so there it is. Again, that goes back to Marcus Maye. Marcus Maye, you’re going to be tested. You’re going to likely be the target of a guy. They’re not going to pick on KeKe as much as they’re going to pick on you, so be ready. You’re going to get a lot of opportunities to make plays, and it’s going to be up to you whether you make plays or not, and if you don’t a guy like Duke Dawson will play. I think he plays anyway some as well, because he had a great freshman year, like you say. Maybe even see Duke slide in to play a little nickel to help Brian Poole out as well.
Nick: That’s something. Duke has worked out pretty much everywhere in the secondary from safety to dime to nickel to outside cornerback. He was the first freshman to return an interception for a touchdown since Janoris Jenkins did it his freshman year. Very smart player, and when players start playing multiple positions, like Quincy Wilson has played both cornerback spots and inside at nickel, that says that the coach is comfortable with putting more on your plate. They think you’re smart enough and mature enough to handle more of the playbook, rather than a guy that they just say, you’re going to play this role. These are the plays you need to learn. Don’t worry about any of the other 10 players. Just focus on what you need to do. For a guy like Duke where they’re having him play four or five roles, it shows a lot about what the coaching staff believes and trusts that he’s able to do.
Andrew: I agree. I think the defense will be good. I really good. I think the defense will be good. We didn’t talk about the special teams when we talked about the offense, so got to talk about that real quick to kind of finish up our preview of fall camp. Again, offense was earlier, talked about all those guys. Fall practice starts August 5th. Let’s talk about special teams. I think we can agree Austin Hardin is going to the kicker. Johnny Townsend’s going to be the punter. Agree or disagree?
Nick: Agree. Agree.
Andrew: Okay. Let’s go to a return game. I think this is where you start to finally see some opportunities. I say opportunities because there’s a lot of guys that can return kicks. Do you go to a guy like Brandon Powell? Do you go to a guy like a Jordan Cronkrite if he plays? Do you go to a Jordan Scarlett, Chris Williamson possibly? Is it Tabor or Quincy? Who is it? I guess, in your mind right now, who do you have as being your kick returner?
Nick: Kick returner, I think there’s a ton of guys. Maybe a Chris Thompson. Maybe a Brandon Powell, like you mentioned. You’re not going to put somebody, we’ve seen Vernon Hargreaves return punts before, but you’re not putting a guy like Vernon Hargreaves on kick return.
Andrew: Right. I think when you see him on punt return it’s usually balls that are inside the 20 where you want a guy that catch the ball and get it out.
Andrew: I guess who would you say right now if you had to make a pick? Who would you give the leading job to as the kick returner heading into fall camp?
Nick: There are three guys that I would love to see back there really, in my ideal world. That would be Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell, and Antonio Callaway.
Andrew: I have to disagree on Robinson. He’s too big. He’s too tall.
Nick: Leonard Fournette returns kicks for FSU.
Andrew: For FSU?
Nick: Sorry, LSU.
Andrew: I seriously doubt Leonar Fournette’s going to be returning kicks this year for LSU.
Nick: Leonard Fournette returned kicks last year and Les Miles said at one of their, like the Gator Gatherings, their LSU things talking to boosters last week, said that Leonard Fournette will again return kicks.
Andrew: Whatever. First of all, I don’t see Robinson being fast enough and shaky enough to do that. I don’t. Demarcus, sorry buddy, don’t see it. I’m going to go with Powell, Callaway, and if I had to go with another one I’d probably say Chris Williamson. That’s going to be my other guy. I think Chris Williamson showed enough shake in his highlight film. Maybe a guy like CJ Worton. CJ Worton’s a quick guy, a fast guy. I’m going to go with one of those guys. I really don’t like seeing receivers, big receivers like that, returning the ball. I like to see slight guys doing it. I’m going to with those three guys. If we’re going punt return who you got? I’m going to go with Jalen Tabor.
Nick: I’m not putting Jalen Tabor there. I’m putting Demarcus Robinson there. Last year Andre Debois handled the brunt of both punt and kick return. After Debois only two other people had returns, Roger Dixon, a walk on, was one and Demarcus Robinson was the other. Debois had 23. Demarcus Robinson had 3. I think he slides into that punt return role.
Andrew: Again, I don’t like it. I’m going to continue to say I don’t like it. I don’t want him there. This is not disrespect. You just don’t want your best player offensively back there taking the hit, especially when he doesn’t have a lot of shake. I’m going to go Tabor there, and then I’m going to follow that up with Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway. I want a guy that when he touches the ball he can take it to the house. I don’t believe Robinson’s that guy.
Nick: I think we agree to disagree. If you are listening to this, feel free to hit us up on the message board and tell us who you think should be returning kicks.
Andrew: Yes. There is a grand prize for not picking Nicholas. So do not pick Nicholas. If you haven’t known, he’s from Miami, and he likes to be cocky.
Nick: That is a lie. There is no prize for not picking me.
Andrew: It absolutely is. I have pull. Tim Tebow can call you on the phone if you pick me, just kidding.
Nick: I have one more question. I’m going to go an over under. Going back to 2008 Florida’s total defense has never been worse than fifth in the SEC. Last year they were fifth, and then also in 2011, I believe, 2011 and 2013. They were fifth. Does Florida finish over, better or worse than fifth in the SEC in total defense?
Andrew: Let me say this real quick before I give you my answer. The defense last year was a lot better, but it’s very tough to do anything when the opposing team is getting the ball on the 40 yard line after two minutes of being on the bench. I do think the defense is better this year. I do think they finish in that top five once again, simply because you’re not throwing on this team. Goodbye. You’re not throwing on this team. I don’t care what you say. I think the offense will be better to give these guys a rest. So I’m going to say they’re going to finish third or fourth. I like Alabama’s defense, once again. Will Muschamp, I’m sorry you don’t have enough depth at Auburn to do anything. You’ll be okay. You’re not going to be great. Florida probably ends up having the second best defense in the East behind Georgia.
Nick: I am going to cheat and say push. I think they end up fifth again.
Andrew: That’s fine. Who do you think has the best defense in the SEC East besides Georgia?
Nick: I think South Carolina loses a little bit on defense, but I love Skai Moore. I really like Georgia’s defense, especially with a guy like Jordan Jenkins. Florida’s definitely better than Vanderbilt, definitely better than Kentucky. Then I think Tennessee there’s a lot of question marks about Tennessee. Again, also a lot of question marks about Florida, but I think when you’re looking at it you can’t just say the East, because then you’ve got defenses like Alabama and LSU and Mississippi State that are all coming back. Arkansas has everything back on defense as well. So there’s a lot of good defenses. Actually, Ole Miss should have a better defense this year as well.
Andrew: Twitter Universe, you have just heard Nicholas say Arkansas was going to have a good defense and LSU was going to have a good defense. There you right now, guys. You know his opinion on defense does not matter.
Nick: LSU will have a good defense.
Andrew: They will have a good defense, but please tell me, Jamal Adams gets pushed over by wind, by wind.
Nick: Jamal Adams is a good player.
Andrew: Jamal Adams is a very good player, no disrespect to Jamal Adams whatsoever. He’s a very good player, but he’s not in the same category as that. I think that a lot of people are disrespecting Florida’s defensive line for losing a guy like Dante Fowler. I don’t think they understand that Mr. Wyoming’s going to be really good. Jonathan Bullard’s going to be really good, and, again, linebacker play is not as important as it was five years ago in football, and that’s the good thing that Florida has going for it is they’re not going to be relying a ton on their linebackers.
Nick: Yeah. They have to though. You have to find ways to hide your deficiencies with your strengths, and your strength is secondary.
Andrew: But name a defense in the country that’s really relying on their linebackers. Name me Alabama’s starting linebackers.
Nick: Reuben Foster.
Andrew: Exactly. What I’m saying is the linebacker play is diminishing, even in the NFL it’s diminishing. The New Orleans Saints cut their best linebacker right before fall camp because he signed a new DD. It is the world of football nowadays. It’s less about running the football. It’s more about throwing the ball. I think that if you want to have a weakness you’d rather have a weakness at linebacker than you would at defensive line or in your secondary.
Nick: You picked a bad team, because Alabama has a ton of linebackers. Christian Miller, Reg Ragland, Denzel Devall, Reuben Foster, Jamey Mosley. There are a lot of very good linebackers on Alabama, and I think Alabama has the best defense in the SEC.
Andrew: Jamey Mosley walked on just so we’re clear. Let me get off point here real quick. I went to look at Lamical Perine during the spring ball and Mosley walked out there, Jamey Mosley which is CJ Mosley’s little brother. I did a quick look. I said, who the hell is that? Is that CJ Mosley? Somebody was like that’s his little brother. That tells you all you need to know. He’s a man. He’s a big old boy to walking on at the University of Alabama.
Nick: He’s got a pedigree.
Andrew: He’s got a pedigree. There you go. Nick, we’re running out of time here, boss. We have went way over our 30 minute’s allotment here. I know people are getting bored. Let’s sign off of here. Starting next week it’s football time.
Nick: I love it. You stay classy, Gator Country.
Andrew: Stay tuned, Gator Country.