For the next few months, GatorCountry.com will be previewing the players who will make up the 2012 Florida football team as we lead up to the season.
Each day, we’ll count off a scholarship player until the season officially arrives on Sept. 1 with a home date against Bowling Green.
Today, we take a look at senior defensive lineman Nick Alajajian:
Florida beat out three of its biggest nemesis — Florida State, Georgia and Miami — to score Alajajian’s signature. One national recruiting network tabbed the U.S. Army All-American as the No. 5 offensive guard in the country while another had Alajajian rated as a five-star prospect. He helped Naples post a 16-0 record and win the Class 3A State Championship in 2007.
Alajajian was one of nine true freshman to play in the 2009 season opener against Charleston Southern and saw action in nine games that season at right tackle. In 2010, his on-the-field time on offense was limited although he did make the participation chart in 13 games on the field goal unit.
Last season, he earned his first and only career start against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. He spent most of the season as a reserve at both tackle spots. He played in 12 of 13 games, missing only the Tennessee game because of an injury.
Alajajian underwent surgery on his right wrist on April 10 after playing with a cast during the Orange & Blue Debut spring scrimmage.
With only one career start, Alajajian has not lived up to the high expectations he had coming out of high school. He even was switched to the defensive line this past spring in an effort to provide depth at nose tackle.
“Nick’s doing solid — It’s all new to him,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said during spring practices.
Making a position switch like Alajajian will try to do so late in his collegiate career is going to be difficult, but Alajajian has the physical skills — flexibility in his core, strong upper body and excellent footwork — to contribute along the Gators’ interior defensive line.
As an offensive tackle, Alajajian’s best asset was his initial burst off of the line of scrimmage. That quick first step allowed Alajajian to be a much better run blocker than pass blocker. That should transfer into him being a run-stopper on the defensive line, so he could help in short-yardage situations.
What to Expect
Coming out of the spring, Alalajian was behind starting nose tackle Omar Hunter on the depth chart. That should remain the same through fall camp, barring injuries. He could be pressed for time by true freshman Jafar Mann, who could fit in at either defensive tackle or nose tackle, if he doesn’t end up being fitted for a redshirt.
Alajajian certainly has the size (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) and strength to plug gaps, but the main thing will be making sure he plugs the correct gap. Exactly how much Alajajian contributes as a senior hinges on his ability to learn his role in the overall defensive scheme. Making the switch in the spring instead of the fall should help the learning curve.
Word is Alalajian has had a strong summer in the weight room, so we’re anticipating he’ll report for fall camp a little larger than the 285 he was listed at in the spring. If he can add a few pounds and keep his quickness, he should become a formidable nose tackle who can spell Hunter, especially in running situations.
It may also be important to note, while the Gators’ official 2012 roster has Alajajian listed as an offensive lineman, his Twitter account (@BigNick58) has “OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE LINEMAN AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA” in his bio. That’s a strong reminder Alajajian could always step back over to the offensive side of the ball to help out, if needed.