The Florida defense may be missing a few familiar faces when it takes the field this fall, but there is still plenty of experience to go around. This spring, the young players are getting their chance to shine and one thing is evident — the athleticism is off the charts.
DEFENSIVE LINE: It feels like every practice my notes are filled with descriptions of plays Jaye Howard makes. He has been in the backfield all spring and he is making positive plays in the run defense and not just as a pass rusher.
It’s scary to think that Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders, who have started for the last two years, might be coming off the bench next season. Omar Hunter and Howard have played that well this spring. Hunter is immovable at the nose tackle spot. There were a few plays during Monday’s scrimmage where the offense tried to run up the middle, but they couldn’t because of Hunter. Even when he isn’t making plays, he is eating up the entire center of the line and taking up space.
Leon Orr practiced for the first day this spring. He got yelled at quite a bit by defensive line coach Dan McCarney, but he looked good to me for his first day. He didn’t show a great get-off at the line of scrimmage, but he eats up space.
LINEBACKER: Jelani Jenkins has been the most impressive linebacker this spring. He weaves in and out of the offensive line on a running play and attacks the running back. It’s not a tackle, it’s an attack. He hits as if he was truly angry at the ball carrier. He’s only 225 pounds now, and the coaches want him to be closer to 240, meaning he’ll hit even harder then. He can get to the sideline and tackle running backs before they get the edge. Jenkins played most of his time as the first team weak side linebacker.
Brandon Hicks played some middle linebacker. He has been playing all three spots this spring and has had a series of practices. The only player he struggled to tackle was Chris Rainey, who Hicks made look lost after he missed the tackle.
Jon Bostic’s athleticism is still off the charts. He has been on the second team group of linebackers at some time, but I would still be surprised if he didn’t start the season at middle linebacker. Mike Gillislee ran past him on a play, and Bostic turned and ran him down to make the tackle. He’s going to be tough to keep off the field.
CORNERBACK: Moses Jenkins has been surprising a lot of people this spring. He has good height, but it seems like something has clicked in his head and he is taking the next step to starting. He is running stride-for-stride with some of the fastest receivers on the team, like Deonte Thompson.
Jeremy Brown almost had an interception as he jumped a short route, but the throw was off target and he could only deflect it with one hand.
Jaylen Watkins had highs and lows Monday. He got beat deep by Frankie Hammond, which forced cornerbacks coach Teryl Austin to yell, “That is absolutely awful. Don’t be a freshman every time out here.” Watkins almost picked off Jordan Reed out of a wildcat formation a few plays later.
SAFETY: Will Hill and Ahmad Black were both effective in stopping the run today. Black still seems to be the surest tackler on the team. He gets off blocks easily and then wraps up the ball carrier.
Hill had an interception off Brantley, who threw deep into strong winds, and the ball was badly underthrown.
Matt Elam has some traces of Black in him. They’re both undersized, but when they hit, the ball carrier goes down. Elam hit former high school teammate Robert Clark had and put him on his back, and the two had a laugh about it after. It’s easy to see Elam already emerging. He got snaps with the first team defense as the nickel back, where he did struggle covering Rainey in the slot.