Heading into this season the Gator defense looked to have the potential to be really good if they could answer two key questions. Are they going to be able to solidify the corner positions? Where will linebacker depth come from? At this point from what we’ve seen and heard those questions are being answered positively and as a result, expectations for the Gator defense are going to be quite high.
Corner is being taken care of by the two Reggies (Lewis and Nelson) while freshmen Markihe Anderson, Jacques Rickerson and Wondy Pierre-Louis all look capable of providing acceptable depth. As for linebacker, Brian Crum is settling in after four-plus years of bouncing from position to position. The loss of Jon Demps is certainly a significant setback, but it is offset by the rookies. True freshmen Dustin Doe, A.J. Jones and Brandon Spikes look like players well ahead of the curve. Linebackers Coach and Co-Coordinator Charley Strong told me he feels much better about depth at his position than he did just two weeks ago
So what questions are out there about this defense? Well here are some questions that were put to Florida’s other co-coordinator Greg Mattison.
What concerns do you have about this defense you have right now?
“My only concern is will this team play up to its potential and will it perform play-in and play-out. We’ve got the numbers, we’ve got the experience and we’ve got a lot of things going for us. All I care about as a coach is will they play their best every game. That’s up to them.”
Where does this defense really need to improve over last year?
“Red Zone. We’ve got to be much, much better in the red zone. From 20 yards in we’ve got to hold them to field goals at the most; we can’t be giving up touchdowns. The next thing would be the pass rush. We need to get better on the pass rush so we can rush four guys and get pressure and get sacks. We can just blitz or run fire zones all the time. We’ve got to be able to line up four guys and say, ‘here we come’.”
Are there two guys on the defensive line who you are looking to really step up their play this fall?
“I’m looking for Joe Cohen to have a good year. I’m looking for him to really make some plays. I’m looking for Steve Harris to make more plays. They (both) played really good football last year, but I’m looking for them to really make plays. When they can make a play, make a play.”
Is this defensive line showing you what you wanted to see this pre-season?
“At times. I can’t say right now they are showing it every time and every play and that’s what we’ve got to get to. When the year’s over with and they find out what kind of defensive line this is they’re going to say they played every play. If it doesn’t play every play then it’s just another defensive line.
I asked senior defensive end Ray McDonald for his thoughts on the defensive line. Particularly if he thinks this line is playing like the dominant unit everyone thinks it can be?
RM: Yeah it is. I mean the coaches are kinda getting on us a bit. We like to have fun, but you can have fun a little too much. WE work, but we got to learn how to kinda shut it down a little bit when we’re having fun. As far as being close and working hard I think we’re doing pretty good. We just got to get better.
For my money there’s no reason why this defensive line shouldn’t be among the best in UF history and the best in the nation this year. Florida has talent, experience and depth. And I mean NFL quality, multiple years of meaningful experience and reserves that have already shown they can compete at this level. They could have four or five guys get drafted next April and that’s a significant amount of talent. The level of dominance they achieve will make it much easier for Florida to continue to handle the issue at corner throughout the upcoming campaign.