Questions to ponder before practice starts

The countdown has started. Only a day or two remains before Florida’s football team begins fall practice.

Earlier in the week, I took a look at the offense, what looks good, what doesn’t. Now it’s time to analyze the defense. Nine new faces will be welcomed to the starting lineup, which should provide for interesting storylines during the dog days of August as the Gators prepare for their Sept. 1 opener against Western Kentucky.

Here are a couple positions to keep an eye on.

1) The Defensive line. Three of the four starters are gone. The only one back is defensive end Derrick Harvey. Clint McMillan and Javier Estopinan filled in nicely when called upon last year, but both have had injury problems, so the Gators better find help.

The most promising reserve is Brandon Antwine, who got some quality snaps last year as a freshman. Now it’s time for a sophomore surge. Also due are Jermaine Cunningham and Lawrence Marsh, second-year players who have potential, but now will be asked to produce.

UF has eight defensive linemen – the others are Terron Sanders and Trent Pupello —with at least some level of college football experience. Defensive coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison could use a few more bodies. Newcomers need to contribute.

The bad news is they’re all freshmen; the good news is they’re all talented. The best of the bunch, Lakeland defensive tackle John Brown, still has not officially qualified. If he does become eligible this fall, the depth problems on the defensive front are partially solved.

Brown is one of two true defensive tackles this freshman class. The other is Torrey Davis, the five-star prospect from Armwood High. One of those two needs to play.

Urban Meyer and his staff recruited well on the defensive line last year, but the other newcomers—Duke Lemmens, Justin Trattou, Jay Howard and Carlos Dunlap—appear to be defensive ends. Florida’s immediate needs are at the tackle positions.

2) The Linebackers. Two things have consistently baffled me about recruiting. With all the speed and athleticism in Florida high school football, the Gators never seem to have enough running backs or linebackers.

This year’s no exception. Brandon Siler, Earl Everett and Brian Crum are done. In their place possibly are Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe, and that’s assuming Florida plays a fair amount of nickel. Spikes and Doe played a lot last year. The projected backups—A.J. Jones and Ryan Stamper—have played in all of two games so far in their careers.

3) Replacing Reggie Nelson. One of Florida’s best-ever defensive backs left a year early for the National Football League. Now Kyle Jackson gets a chance. Jackson, if you remember languished on Ron Zook’s bench for much of 2004, before galvanizing Florida’s secondary.

A year later, Nelson, a junior-college All-America pick, arrived and pushed for Jackson’s free safety spot, and Jackson appeared to lose confidence. Now that Nelson’s gone, will Jackson thrive? I think he will. We’ll find out.