Continuing Gator Country’s “Know Your Foe” series, today we take a look at the best defensive players that the Gators will face in 2013.
Playing in the SEC means that on a weekly basis the Gators will face some of the most talented players, many of them on the defensive side of the ball, in the country. Strong, fast, hit-you-in-the-mouth style defenses are what built the SEC into the most dominant conference in college football and playing those types of teams means that Florida will face monsters dressed up in football uniforms all season long.
While Will Muschamp has built that type of defense at Florida, the Gators’ offense has struggled the past three seasons. Last year, Florida finished with the SEC’s worst passing offense (146.3 ypg.), the No. 12 total offense (334 ypg.) and the No. 10 scoring offense (26.5 ppg.).
Gator Nation became accustomed to a certain style of offense when Steve Spurrier built the program in the nineties to what it has become today. While you won’t see a quarterback throw for 300 yards in a half, something that Spurrier would have loved to see during his time at Florida, the Gators’ offense still needs to find ways to be productive on offense against some of the country’s best defensive teams.
Last season, and more likely than not this season, that meant running the football right at teams. Florida hasn’t been coy about their intentions to become a smash mouth style of offense and that style has proven effective.
Do the Gators have the players in place and the coaches on staff to make the offense one of the better units in the conference? I think so. But they’ll have to find a way to deal with these 10 players if they’re going to take a step forward in 2013.
10. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
Smith is an absolute force from his defensive end spot for the Razorbacks. Smith finished fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks last season and also added 52 tackles, 13 for a loss.
Smith’s play was lost in the media circus, nightmare of a season that Arkansas went through in 2012 but he returns for his senior season with NFL aspirations and a need to prove that he is one of the best defensive players in the SEC.
Smith will have his hands full with D.J. Humphries when the Razorbacks travel to Gainesville to take on the Gators in the Swamp but he is more than capable of giving any offensive lineman in the country trouble with his speed-rushing ability.
9. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky
Williamson was a bright spot on a defense that gave up an average of 31 points per game and didn’t finish higher than ninth best in any defensive category in 2012.
Williamson finished second in the conference with 135 tackles (including a league leading 70 solo tackles), an average of 11.25 per game.
The hiring of Mark Stoops has brought a sense of excitement and encouragement to Lexington that hasn’t been there in my lifetime. First and foremost, Stoops will bring a strong, defensive mindset to Kentucky, which means the sky is the limit for Williamson this season.
8. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
When you think about Vanderbilt, a tough defense isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Football may not even be the first thing that comes to mind. Alright, fine, you don’t ever think about Vanderbilt unless they’re Florida’s next opponent.
Well despite all of that, don’t tell Andre Hal that Vanderbilt won’t have a good defense this season.
A senior defensive back, Hal led the SEC with 14 pass breakups a season ago on his was to being named a second team All-SEC player. The next closest player to Hal’s 14 pass breakups was his teammate Trey Wilson with eight.
Hal will be a tough test for Florida’s passing attack as they continue to develop under Brent Pease and Jeff Driskel.
7. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Despite not being a full time starter in 2012, Timmy Jernigan should be one of the top defensive tackles in the country in 2013. Jernigan was able to amass 46 tackles, including 8 for a loss in his backup role, showing what a force he can be from his interior linemen position.
At 6’2” and nearly 300-pounds, Jernigan is a massive space eater who demands attention and even double teams. He does a good job of shedding blockers and getting into the opponents’ backfield.
With Jon Halapio, Jon Harrison and Max Garcia making up the interior of Florida’s line in 2013, Jernigan will have his work cut out for him but he has the talent to really give Florida a challenge in the 2013 season finale.
6. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
Jernigan won’t be the only Nole defender that the Gators have to worry about. Fellow senior, Lamarcus Joyner, is poised to have a breakout season for the Nole’s and is a player that Florida will need to identify before every play come November 30.
Joyner has played in every single game since he arrived in Tallahassee, including 27 consecutive starts. Joyner is small for a safety at just 5’8” 195 pounds but he makes up for it with his cover ability and physicality. Just because he’s a smaller player doesn’t mean Joyner won’t come in the box and play physical football.
Joyner finished tied for fifth on the team with 51 tackles and was fourth on the team with 5 passes defended.
5. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
Georgia is going to have to have the mentality of “next man up” after losing so much talent on the defensive side of the football. At linebacker that next man up is Jordan Jenkins.
Jenkins is only a sophomore but appeared in all 14 games for the Dawgs last season and was second on the team with five sacks. While Jenkins didn’t record a sack against Florida last season he was credited with three quarterback hurries and two tackles in a limited role.
Without Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones and Michael Gilliard at linebacker, Jenkins role in the defense will increase and if his production from his freshman season is any indicator, will become a major force on Georgia’s rebuilt defense.
4. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
At 6’3” 310-pounds it’s hard to miss Anthony Johnson. And Florida can’t afford to miss a player as good as Johnson when they prepare to travel to Baton Rouge to face off against the Tigers on October 12.
Johnson was stuck behind Bennie Logan last season but was still able to account for 30 tackles, 10 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage and three sacks.
Johnson is the same type of player as Logan and should fill in nicely for the Tigers giving them the kind of production that they became accustomed to with Logan. That’s around 50-60 tackles a season, a handful of tackles for a loss and a big space eater at tackle. Florida just hopes that the majority of those numbers won’t come against them.
3. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
While Kevin Minter, Sam Montgomery and the rest of LSU’s vaunted defense stole the headline, Lamin Barrow quietly went about his business and had a productive season under the radar.
Barrow finished the season with 104 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, five passes defended, five quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Barrow is an instinctual player who always finds himself around the ball. With his new increased role in the defense, Barrow will lead the Tigers in tackles in 2013 and provide them with both a powerful run-stopper at linebacker and a player who can also defend the pass
2. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Butch Jones will bring a similar plan to Tennessee that Will Muschamp brought to Florida. Jones will focus on establishing a powerful running game and a tough physical defense.
The centerpiece of that defense is A.J. Johnson. Johnson led the SEC in tackles last season (138) while also accounting for 8.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, and eight quarterback hurries.
Oh, and in case you wanted to know what kind of athlete he is, Johnson also scored six rushing touchdowns as the team’s wildcat quarterback.
As Tennessee hopes to rebuild with a new head coach, Johnson gives the Vols a good player to start rebuilding around.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Not only is Jadeveon Clowney the best defensive player that Florida will face all season, Clowney is the best player Florida – or any team for that matter – will face all season long.
Clowney was the rare case of a high school player who may have been ready to play in the NFL right away. The past two seasons – and the one upcoming – have merely been Clowney biding time until he can declare for the NFL Draft. His head coach has said on numerous occasions that Clowney was on a “three-year plan” and they knew that while recruiting him.
Despite being a player that opposing teams scheme for all week long leading up to games, Clowney finished his sophomore season with 54 tackles (40 solo), 23.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, five quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
If the SEC is a “man’s conference” than Clowney is the manliest man in the room and everyone knows it.