Pro Day Preview: Defense

With the official start of spring practice slated for this week, Florida football fans are licking their collective chops at the thought of seeing the Gators back on the gridiron.

However, before the current crop of Gators can start prepping for next year, Florida’s recently departed players will take to the turf of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for a final time.

Florida’s official Pro Day will be held on Tuesday. As a litany of NFL scouts and coaches converge onto UF’s campus, Florida’s draft-eligible players will be doing whatever they can to impress a number of potential employers.

The Gators have a sizeable number of players who will be participating, including a handful of seniors who were unable to garner invites to the NFL Combine held late last month.

Heading into Tuesday’s festivities, several former Gators find themselves in several different positions. For Sharrif Floyd — one of several junior players to declare early — a Pro Day workout is almost unnecessary, as the hulking defensive tackle saw his stock shoot up immensely after the NFL Combine.

According to estimations by a number of “experts,” Floyd should hear his name called rather early during April’s NFL Draft, with some guessing he may be selected as high as No. 2.

On the other end of the spectrum is fellow defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who did not receive an invitation to the combine. For players like Hunter, Pro Day is perhaps the one and only chance at getting a team to fall in love with them.

Hunter will have to overcome questions about his lack of height, but his positives outweigh the negatives. A team captain this past season, Hunter started all 13 games during his senior year, notching a career-high 40 tackles. Hunter also managed to post four tackles for loss and an impressive four pass breakups from his post along the line of scrimmage.

As is often the case, speed will be the area of concern for Hunter. A good 40-yard dash time could be the difference between a late round selection and automatic free agent status.

Another former defensive player who will be aiming to standout on Tuesday is Lerentee McCray. Although invited to the combine, McCray did not work out in Indianapolis due to his ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery.

McCray was slotted as a mid to late-round pick before the combine, and if he has any hopes of going higher, he will need to have a solid workout. Perhaps the most notable area where McCray will hope to post impressive numbers will be during the speed and agility portion of his testing. McCray, at 6-foot 2 and 250 pounds is projected to play at the linebacker spot in the NFL.

Gainesville-native Earl Okine will be looking to take advantage of the Pro Day stage as well. Despite posting pedestrian numbers during her tenure in Gainesville, Okine still possesses a valuable trait that cannot be coached — height. At 6-foot 7, Okine stands above most on the football field. With a solid build of nearly 290 pounds, as well as a lengthy wingspan, Okine could potentially find a place in the NFL.

Florida’s linebacking core was an underrated group during the season, but both Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins are well known to NFL scouts. Bostic undoubtedly played himself into the upper middle rounds this past season, showing an ability run and cover in a way few inside linebackers can. At the Combine, Bostic posted an impressive 4.61 40-yard dash — sixth overall among linebackers.

Bostic could potentially build on that number on Tuesday, as the stadium grass is sure to provide a faster track than the field turf in Indianapolis. Like Bostic, Jenkins is one of the speedier linebackers in this year’s draft class, but Jenkins did not participate at the combine.

Jenkins’ declaration for the draft was a surprise to quite a few in Gainesville, including the Florida coaching staff. Jenkins suffered a number of injuries during the season, including a broken bone in his foot, which held him out of the combine.

Jenkins did post 27 reps of 225 lbs at the combine, an impressive number that only four other linebackers were able to eclipse.

Florida’s starting safety duo last season — Matt Elam and Josh Evans — both had rather impressive showings at the combine. Elam was already projected to be high pick before his workout last month, but he did absolutely nothing to hurt his stock.

In fact, perhaps the biggest question concerning Elam at this point is his aggression on the field. Some are concerned about his penchant for going for the big hit rather than making a play on the ball. Like Hunter, Elam also suffers from a perception that he too is undersized, but with everything else the safety brings to the table, a first-round selection is more likely than not.

In addition to being one of the combine’s biggest surprises, Evans was also arguably one of the Gators’ biggest surprises in 2012. The 6 foot-1 safety went from a virtual unknown, to a mid-round prospect with his play last season. Although the year wasn’t without its rough spots (Ben Malena from Texas A&M says hi), Evans’ 4.58 40 and 34.5 in. vertical hint at an explosive player waiting in the wings.

Pro Day is also a day where forgotten about players make one last-ditch effort at the NFL dream. One such player could be OL turned DT Nick Alajajian. It remains to be seen if Alajajian will work out, as his quiet career at Florida may have resulted in little interest by either him or scouts in terms of a NFL career.

Florida’s defensive numbers (in terms of participants) during Pro Day may not be grand, but the Gators’ ‘D’ could see as many as seven players selected in April’s draft.

The Gators have come a long way in just one year’s time.

They had just one defensive player, and two players overall, drafted last year.

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alex gray
A once-upon-a-time standout on the high school gridiron, Alex unfortunately learned of the inexistent market for 5-foot 10 offensive linemen, and concentrated on remaining involved with sports in some capacity. Upon finishing at the University of Florida, Alex realized his passion for writing and sought a way to combine that passion with his love of sports, thus bringing him to GC. In his spare moments, Alex enjoys spending quality time with his DVR, and is on a current quest to break 120 on the golf course.