Football: Florida Gators Week 1 Recap – Defense

The first week of fall camp is in the books, and plenty of Florida Gators football news has come out of it.

Gator Country has been following all the action and providing daily updates to whet your football appetite.

Today, we stop to recap the first week of fall camp with a position-by-position breakdown of all that has happened, including this look at the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line
Overview The defensive line figures to be one of Florida’s strong points heading into the season, and nothing that happened in the first week of fall camp has changed that.

Sophomore Ronald Powell likes the look of the defensive line, and said the athleticism and talent along the Florida front should be a huge asset to the team in 2011.

Players have also continued to respond to an impressive group of coaches who have continued to put emphasis on technique in terms of stance and getting off the ball.

Change has been the name of the game up front for the Gators, as several players are rotating through multiple positions.

The idea is for everyone to get comfortable at multiple spots so the Gators can run different plays out of the same personnel groupings to confuse opposing offenses.

Changes There haven’t been a whole lot of changes since spring practice, as the same personnel seem to be getting the majority of the reps. The group is, however, much healthier as a whole than in the spring, which is a great sign for Florida.
Best Player It’s a tough call labeling any one of Florida’s defensive linemen the best player in the group. Strong cases could be made for Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Jaye Howard right now. That said, Powell’s versatility and athleticism at the Buck make him the pick after the first week of fall camp.

Ronald Powell and the defensive line has a lot of potential, and it’s coming together well early in camp. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise After missing most of spring football practice with an injury, Kedric Johnson wasn’t expected to do much for Florida in fall camp. But head coach Will Muschamp and a handful of other players have already mentioned him as a player emerging on the defensive line.
Improvement Needed It’s hard to find much Florida really needs to improve right now on the defensive line, but the strong-side defensive end position is still somewhat of a question mark. If William Green can emerge as a play-maker there, Florida will be in great shape.
Best Quote “To have those guys that are so talented in the one-deep, two-deep, with Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley, Omar Hunter, and Sharrif Floyd. I mean those guys are going to bring so much to the table. They have to double them and let me loose, or double me and let them loose. So there’s going to be so many different things that we will be able to do.” Ronald Powell on talented defensive line
Freshman Impact Florida only brought in two true freshmen on the defensive line in Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton, and Burton has moved to tight end. Westbrook arrived in much better shape than many expected and has the size to contribute immediately if necessary. Chances are he will redshirt, though.
What to Watch The defensive end spots are fairly set between Ronald Powell and William Green, but everyone on Florida’s defensive line will rotate around a lot. What will the rotation inside look like with so many talented tackles, and will anyone begin to establish themselves as starters in the tight competition?
GC Projected Depth BUCK – #7 Ronald Powell | #93 Kedric Johnson | #92 Lynden Trail
DT – #4 Sharrif Floyd | #6 Jaye Howard
NT – #2 Dominique Easley | #99 Omar Hunter | #68 Leon Orr
SDE – #96 William Green | #91 Earl Okine | #97 Tevin Westbrook
Injury Report None
Overview The linebacker rotation appears to be taking shape early in fall camp, as players make their moves and impress the coaching staff.

After playing together for a full year, Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic have terrific chemistry and should anchor the middle at weak-side and middle linebacker, respectively.

Meanwhile, the strong-side linebaker position is up for grabs. Redshirt junior Lerentee McCray feels it’s his time to shine, and he has the early lead for the starting spot.

Developing depth was one of Muschamp’s keys heading into fall camp, and it appears the Gators are doing that.

Michael Taylor, Gideon Ajagbe and Dee Finley have all been mentioned as guys who are getting more confortable in the defense, and true freshman Graham Stewart has also looked good early on.

Changes There haven’t been many changes yet in the depth chart, as McCray seems to be holding his spring edge at the strong-side linebacker spot. A handful of players pushing him for the spot could change that in the second week of fall camp, though.
Best Player It’s a dead heat right now between Jenkins and Bostic for the best linebacker. Based on Jenkins’ weight and strength gains in the offseason and superior production in 2010, he gets the nod here.

Linebackers coach D.J. Durkin has worked hard with the linebackers, who struggled in the 2010 season. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise There haven’t been a whole lot of surprises at linebacker, but true freshman Graham Stewart came in much bigger than expected and has had a nice impact early in his Florida career.
Improvement Needed The main thing the Gators still have to accomplish at linebacker in fall camp is solidifying the strong-side position. Either McCray needs to cement his place there or someone else needs to step up and take over at the position.
Best Quote “I’m just always ready for the opportunity. Any time it knocks on my door, I just have to be ready. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t ready last year. I’m ready. Any time they call my name, it’s my time to shine.” – Lerentee McCray on potentially starting
Freshman Impact Florida only brought in one linebacker, and his size was a concern coming in. However, Graham Stewart showed up much bigger and more physically ready than anyone expected and could contribute immediately in 2011.
What to Watch The strong-side linebacker spot is the one to watch, as players make their case for the starting job. However, the backup job to Jenkins on the weakside should also be interesting to watch, since Michael Taylor seems to have the backup middle linebacker job pretty much under wraps.
GC Projected Depth WLB – #43 Jelani Jenkins | #13 Dee Finley
MLB – #52 Jon Bostic | #51 Michael Taylor | #55 Graham Stewart
SLB – #34 Lerentee McCray | #25 Gideon Ajagbe | #49 Darrin Kitchens
Injury Report None
Overview The cornerback position was one of Florida’s biggest question marks heading into fall camp after losing Janoris Jenkins in the offseason.

One of the starting positions appears to be firmly in Jeremy Brown’s grasp, but the other starting position is still up in the air.

The two primary candidates coming into fall camp were Cody Riggs and Moses Jenkins, but a new name is quickly emerging in the battle.

That’s true freshman Marcus Roberson, who has earned praise from just about every player on the field, including starting quarterback John Brantley.

While the starting job is still up for grabs, the Gators are starting to develop some quality depth at the position, too.

Changes The biggest change at the cornerback position is the emergence of Roberson, but true freshmen Pop Saunders and Louchiez Purifoy have also impressed early in fall camp. The position seems to be developing better than expected after the first week.
Best Player Right now, there’s little doubt Jeremy Brown is the player who has been talked about the most consistently. He gets the nod after the first week as best player, but Riggs and Roberson appear hot on his heels.

Travaris Robinson has coached the cornerbacks, and some young guys are emerging under his tutelage. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise It’s not surprising a true freshman has come in and made some noise at a shallow position like cornerback, but the way Roberson has dominated the conversation has surprised even the most optimistic. The way players are raving about his ability, it sounds like he’s legitimately contending for a starting spot.
Improvement Needed Muschamp has said a few times the secondary has been up and down so far in fall camp, so the biggest thing the cornerbacks need to work on is consistency.
Best Quote “He reminds me of a Joe Haden almost. He even wears that No. 5, so maybe that’s what it is. He comes out, he’s young, he doesn’t let anything get to him, always holds up his head and he goes out and works.” – Omar Hunter on true freshman Marcus Roberson
Freshman Impact No position is likely to have as much of a freshmen impact as cornerback. True freshman Pop Saunders has repped with the first team, while Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy have made a great first impression on the coaching staff. All three should see the field in 2011.
What to Watch Muschamp has stated his hesitation in praising Roberson, as the head coach wants to see if he hits the normal freshman wall. If he doesn’t, he could compete for the starting spot with Cody Riggs. That may be the most interesting position battle on the team.
GC Projected Depth CB – #8 Jeremy Brown | #36 Moses Jenkins | #15 Louchiez Purifoy
CB – #31 Cody Riggs | #26 Pop Saunders | #5 Marcus Roberson
Injury Report None
Overview Despite losing both of their starting safeties from a year ago, the Florida Gators look to be in pretty good shape heading into 2011.

Matt Elam and Josh Evans have pretty firm grasps on the two starting jobs, and Elam and Evans say they’re ready for the spotlight.

Behind them, talented second-year players Jaylen Watkins and Josh Shaw have emerged as solid backups.

The Gators have made a slight schematic change, essentially eliminating the strong and free safety distinctions in favor of left and right. The move require every safety to be able to handle the duties of both the strong and free safety position.

A handful of true freshmen are also trying to earn some playing time at the position.

Changes The two biggest changes at safety are personnel and the move from strong and free safeties to left and right safeties. Jaylen Watkins and Valdez Showers are now working mostly at safety.
Best Player While most expected Elam to be the star safety, he has had a fairly quiet first week of fall camp. Meanwhile, Evans has played well and earned some praise from teammates, so he gets the nod as best player after the first week.

Head coach Will Muschamp has personally overseen the development of the safeties. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise There haven’t been many surprises at the safety position – or news in general – so the change in scheme forcing each safety to learn the responsibilities of both the strong and free safety has been the most interesting thing so far.
Improvement Needed Like the cornerback position, consistency has been the main issue for the safeties. The talent is there, and the Gators have formed a solid two-deep. Now they just need it to show up every day.
Best Quote “He has a personal experience by playing safety and I think that helps a lot with the secondary. He gives us tips and cues on how to view stuff, so it’s like a different vision than last year. Not bailing out, kind of reading the run, coming downhill more and basically just seeing what’s going on as far as backfield and personnel and all types of stuff.” – Josh Evans on Will Muschamp coaching safeties
Freshman Impact With Jabari Gorman, Chris Johnson and Showers all true freshmen at safety, it’s probably safe to say at least one of them will play some in 2011. But currently, none of the three are on the two-deep, so they’ll have work to do to see the field.
What to Watch Elam and Evans seem to have a pretty firm hold on the starting jobs, but both Watkins and Shaw have reportedly played very well. Will they begin to make a push for a starting spot? If not, how often will Florida get them onto the field?
GC Projected Depth LS – #24 Josh Evans | #9 Josh Shaw | #20 Valdez Showers | #21 Jabari Gorman
RS – #22 Matt Elam | #14 Jaylen Watkins | #33 Chris Johnson
Injury Report None