Football: Florida Gators Week 2 Recap – Defense

Florida concluded its fall camp on Saturday with its third scrimmage since opening camp, and plenty has changed in the past week.

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

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

Defensive Line
Overview The Florida defensive line hasn’t shifted too much in the past week of fall practice, but one starter has made a move on the defensive line.

That’s sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who has moved to defensive end in front of William Green for the time being. Floyd’s size gives Florida a much bigger body on the strong-side, with the explosiveness to still effectively rush the passer.

His move, however, does indicate that head coach Will Muschamp hasn’t been overly thrilled with the production of the players at the position.

The Gators have gotten good production from a shallow group at defensive tackle, and Muschamp said he’s pleased with their performance. However, he’s far less happy with the play at defensive end.

Muschamp’s biggest problem with the defensive ends has been their inability to beat one-on-ones to get to the quarterback, which has kept Florida from getting consistent pressure from its front four.

Changes The biggest change is Floyd’s move to defensive end, which essentially means Florida is down to four scholarship defensive tackles currently playing full-time inside. Floyd will play some inside, too, but he’s primarily the strong-side defensive end now.
Best Player Ronald Powell was the choice here last week, but he’s had an extremely quiet fall camp. Floyd, John Brantley said, is the guy he’s seen in the backfield the most, so he gets the nod here this week.

Sharrif Floyd is playing defensive end now, and he’s had a nice early impact in fall camp. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise Floyd’s move is the obvious choice here, but it wasn’t altogether unexpected. That said, the lack of players and coaches talking about Powell has been shocking for a guy touted as one of Florida’s potential superstars in 2011.
Improvement Needed Florida’s defensive ends need to get better pressure on the quarterback by being more consistent off the edge. If Florida’s ends can’t start beating one-on-ones more often, the Gators will not have a very good pass rush and will be limited defensively in what Muschamp can do.
Best Quote “I can’t get doubled team at that position. I’m loving it. I’m just getting a feel for it. It’s a good opportunity for me and I’m going to take advantage of it. Outside, you got to just worry about that one man, inside its pretty much the same but you can get double-teamed,” – Sharrif Floyd on move to defensive end.
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. Muschamp has said it’s rare for linemen to come in and play as a true freshman, so it would be surprising to see any freshman impact.
What to Watch Florida’s defensive ends have to start getting better off the edge. Will they pick it up? Will Powell start to make some noise after a surprisingly quiet fall camp?
GC Projected Depth BUCK – #7 Ronald Powell | #93 Kedric Johnson | #34 Lerentee McCray | #92 Lynden Trail
DT – #6 Jaye Howard | #99 Omar Hunter
NT – #2 Dominique Easley | #68 Leon Orr
SDE – #4 Sharrif Floyd | #96 William Green | #91 Earl Okine | #97 Tevin Westbrook
Injury Report None
Overview The only real question at linebacker entering fall camp was who would win the starting strong-side linebacker position, and that battle appears to be over.

Junior Lerentee McCray has emerged as the starter on the strong-side, Muschamp said. He will play alongside Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic, two leaders of the Florida defense.

Jenkins and Bostic have shown tremendous gains, particularly with regard to their communication on the field, Muschamp said. They will anchor the middle of the Florida defense.

Behind them, Dee Finley has made some nice plays on the weakside, while Michael Taylor continues to be mentioned as a playmaker and the probable backup to Bostic.

Finally, Darrin Kitchens appears to be making a push for playing time as the backup on the strong-side.

Changes There were two big changes at this position in the past week. First, McCray took over the starting job on the strong side. Second, true freshman safety Chris Johnson was moved to linebacker.
Best Player Like last week, it’s extremely close between Bostic and Jenkins. The duo is nearly inseparable on and off the field, but the nod goes to Jenkins again courtesy of his better 2010 season.

Freshman safety Chris Johnson was moved to linebacker by Will Muschamp in the second week of fall camp. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise McCray winning the starting spot on the strong side didn’t surprise anyone, but Johnson’s move to safety caught a lot of people off guard.
Improvement Needed Muschamp hasn’t talked about the linebacker a whole lot, but developing depth is the one thing he continues to stress at the position. Florida also needs to continue to tackle better.
Best Quote ““He’s an athlete, he just has a nose for the ball. He finds the ball very well. He’s still new to the position so he’s learning a lot out there. He just has a head for the ball, he loves to hit. I think that’s one of the reasons they brought him down in the box – He’s been one of those guys that just wants to go hit somebody.” – LB Jon Bostic on freshman Chris Johnson
Freshman Impact Florida has two freshmen at linebacker in Johnson and Graham Stewart, and both have had a very good fall camp. Both are expected to play right now heading into the final weeks leading up to the 2011 season.
What to Watch With the starters set now, the one thing to keep an eye on is the backups behind them. The Gators still need to develop better depth at the position. Will Johnson or Stewart make a real push for more playing time?
GC Projected Depth WLB – #43 Jelani Jenkins | #13 Dee Finley | #33 Chris Johnson
MLB – #52 Jon Bostic | #51 Michael Taylor | #55 Graham Stewart
SLB – #34 Lerentee McCray | #49 Darrin Kitchens | #25 Gideon Ajagbe
Injury Report #48 Neiron Ball (congenital vascular condition, out for year)
Overview The cornerback position is still somewhat up in the air for the Gators, particularly in light of the fact that projected junior starter Jeremy Brown injured his knee a week ago and isn’t expected back until mid-week.

With Brown out, sophomore Cody Riggs and true freshman Marcus Roberson are the current projected starters. Brown is expected to regain his starting spot when he returns, which means Roberson and Riggs will likely compete for the remaining spot.

Roberson has impressed Muschamp, and the head coach said he may even win a starting spot if he continues to play well.

Meanwhile, sophomore Jaylen Watkins has moved back to cornerback after spending most of the spring and early fall at safety. He could also push for serious playing time in fall camp.

Louchiez Purifoy has also earned some early praise for his play, though not quite at the level of Roberson.

Changes Brown’s injury certainly makes things more interesting at the cornerback position, and Watkins’ return to cornerback is also a major change that could shake things up. Pop Saunders has moved from cornerback to safety.
Best Player Brown was Florida’s best player at the position before his injury, but nobody has been talked about more than Marcus Roberson. He’s definitely in strong contention for a starting spot, and right now it sounds like he’s Florida’s top guy at the position.

True freshman Marcus Roberson has put himself in great position to earn a starting spot after two weeks of fall camp. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise Watkins’ move back to cornerback has to be the biggest surprise this week. He was firmly in the conversation for a starting safety spot, but Muschamp said he felt they needed to get him some reps at cornerback, too.
Improvement Needed With Brown’s injury, Florida is relatively thin at cornerback. The Gators can’t afford many more bumps and bruises at a position with so little experience. The cornerbacks need every snap they can get. Staying healthy is key.
Best Quote “Jaylen Watkins actually the last two days, we’ve been repping corner and has done a nice job. He can play both positions. He’s had an outstanding camp. We’ve got to get in the film room [Saturday] and make some decisions for tomorrow about where we’re going with that position.” – Will Muschamp on Jaylen Watkins
Freshman Impact Last week, we stated as many as three true freshmen could see playing time for Florida. Roberson is very close to winning a starting spot, and Louchiez Purifoy will also play.
What to Watch When Brown returns to the lineup is the biggest question at the position. If he’s not back as soon as expected, Florida will have to get two starters ready to play. Will Riggs and Roberson lock down those spots, or will someone else step up?
GC Projected Depth CB – #8 Jeremy Brown (+) | #5 Marcus Roberson | #36 Moses Jenkins
CB – #31 Cody Riggs | #14 Jaylen Watkins | #15 Louchiez Purifoy
Injury Report #8 Jeremy Brown (knee, expected back Aug. 24-25)
Overview It’s probably not fair to say that the Gators have taken a step backward at the safety position, but it certainly sounds like they haven’t taken a big step forward in the past week or so.

Muschamp has continued to stress that his safeties need to tackle and communicate better to play at the level he wants. He said the communication has improved somewhat, but the tackling is still an issue.

Sophomore Matt Elam has locked down one of the starting safety jobs, and Muschamp said he’s pleased with his progression.

The other safety position is still very much up in the air. Muschamp is not happy with the play there, and he moved Pop Saunders to safety as a result. Saunders has been praised as a great tackler, and Muschamp said he felt he deserved a chance to start.

With less than two weeks before the season begins, the remaining safety spot is down to a three-man battle between Josh Evans, Josh Shaw and Saunders.

Changes Pop Saunders has moved to safety, while Jaylen Watkins has moved back to cornerback. Josh Evans has seemingly lost his lead on the starting spot.
Best Player This is one of the toughest spots on the team to pick a best player. None have been particularly impressive based on Muschamp’s comments, but Elam is the best of the bunch right now.

Coming out of fall camp, junior Josh Evans has a full-fledged battle on his hands for the starting spot at safety. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise Saunders’ move to safety and Watkins’ move to cornerback were both equally surprising. Both were playing well at their respective positions and competing for a starting job, so the switch seems a little odd.
Improvement Needed Muschamp has continued to harp on the poor tackling and communication at the safety position, and that seems to be the biggest focus for improvement at this point.
Best Quote “Those three guys, we just need more consistent play, more consistent communication, more production from one of those three guys. That’s what I’m looking for, and if it’s all three, we’ve got to rotate the guys in there. I’m fine with that.” – Will Muschamp on Evans, Shaw and Saunders at safety
Freshman Impact Pop Saunders is almost certain to earn playing time as a true freshman, and he’s in the running for a starting spot. Valdez Showers and Jabari Gorman are further behind, but they could also see time at a shallow position in 2011.
What to Watch One of the biggest questions on the team heading into the season is who will start alongside Elam. That battle will be the most interesting to watch in the next two weeks.
GC Projected Depth LS – #26 Pop Saunders | #24 Josh Evans | #9 Josh Shaw
RS – #22 Matt Elam | #20 Valdez Showers | #21 Jabari Gorman
Injury Report None
Special Teams
Overview Muschamp took time to mention the special teams a handful of times this week, and the depth chart is taking shape on special teams.

Senior Caleb Sturgis has locked down the starting kicking job, while former walk-on punter David Lerner is fighting through Crohn’s disease to earn the starting punting job and a scholarship.

At returner, the usual faces return for the Gators, though a new one has emerged as a possible safe hands option as a punt returner. That’s redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed, who Muschamp said has workd back there.

Still, Chris Rainey is the current starting punt returner, while Andre Debose is the current starting kick returner.

Changes Lerner and true freshman Kyle Christy were in a tough competition for the starting punting job, but Lerner winning out has been the only real change to special teams in the past week.
Best Player With such a wide array of players on special teams, it’s tough to pick one player. Muschamp said he has been very pleased with Sturgis’ consistency and leg strength throughout fall camp, so he gets the nod here.

Senior punter David Lerner has battled through Crohn’s disease to win the starting job and earn himself a scholarship. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise The revelation that Lerner had Crohn’s disease was surprising. The fact that he was still competing through it was more surprising. The fact that he won the starting job and earned a scholarship is one of the real feel-good stories of fall camp in the past few years.
Improvement Needed It’s hard to note many places that could use a lot of improvement, but the punting position as a whole probably still needs work. Muschamp said Christy needs to improve his consistency somewhat.
Best Quote “I think the true test of someone is shown through adversity. Certainly he is an inspiration to me, just watching him and how he’s handled himself. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. He’s a tough young man.” – Will Muschamp on David Lerner’s battle with Crohn’s disease
Freshman Impact True freshman punter Kyle Christy was expected to win Florida’s starting punting job, but he lost the battle to David Lerner. Still, he’ll probably get the opportunity to punt some early in the season.
What to Watch While Lerner has the punting job won for the moment, that’s the one spot on special teams that bears further watching as fall practice continues. Will Christy straighten things out and make a push for the starting spot?
GC Projected Depth PK – #19 Caleb Sturgis | #97 Brad Phillips | #98 Zack Brust
P – #40 David Lerner | #44 Kyle Christy | #39 Todd Fennell
LS – #46 Drew Ferris | #54 Christopher Guido
KR – #4 Andre Debose | #2 Jeff Demps | #83 Solomon Patton
PR – #3 Chris Rainey | #83 Solomon Patton | #5 Marcus Roberson | #85 Frankie Hammond, Jr. | #11 Jordan Reed
Injury Report None