Florida Football: Will the Gators Defense Be Better or Worse in 2013?
From his opening press conference two years ago, Will Muschamp made it clear what type of football team he wanted to assemble in Gainesville.
He wanted a team that was fast, physical and smart.
In his second season, Muschamp has done just that on the defensive side of the ball. Florida's defense plays fast and physical, while making their opponents earn every inch they gain on the field. Currently the Gators are fourth in the country in scoring defense (12.1 points per game), tenth in the country in rushing defense (100.33 yards allowed per game), seventeenth in passing defense (186.6 yards per game) and fifth in total defense (286.9 yards allowed per game).
But with a lot of draft eligible players, does Florida have the depth to maintain their dominance on the defensive side of the ball?
Take a look at the roster as it sits now and there are nine players on defense who will either graduate following this season or are draft eligible and could decide to forgo their senior seasons. Josh Evans will graduate following the season and Matt Elam could choose to forgo his final year of school to join his brother in the NFL.
Jon Bostic is gone at the end of the season and Jelani Jenkins could choose to leave, but will most likely stay for his senior year after dealing with injuries for much of this season. Omar Hunter, Earl Okine and Lerentee McCray are seniors who will be gone at the end of the season, but Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley are both playing great football.
For them, the NFL might be too nice to pass up.
Florida is extremely deep in the secondary, so losing Elam and Evans wouldn't be too hard to replace. The duo has played extremely well together this season, but with players like De'Ante Saunders, Marcus Maye, Rhaheim Ledbetter and Jabari Gorman, along with two incoming freshman, Florida will be fine at safety.
Linebacker is another deep unit.
Losing a leader like Bostic will be tough, but not a back breaker. Jelani Jenkins is likely to return for another season and can pick up the leadership role that Bostic leaves behind. Antonio Morrison stepped up as a freshman and can play multiple linebacker spots, Michael Taylor, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens all return and Florida will get help from at least two more incoming freshmen.
The defensive line (defensive tackle specifically) is where the Gators will really lack depth next season.
Sharrif Floyd could receive a first round grade at the end of the season and that will be tough to pass up.
If Floyd and Easey both declare early for the draft, that leaves the Gators with just four interior linemen. Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs have both played well in their limited roles this season. Quinteze Williams, a redshirt freshmen to-be, and Caleb Brantley will join them.
Florida is stacked at the defensive end and Buck positions and could move over a defensive end to add depth to the tackle position.
With Ronald Powell earning a redshirt this season, he will almost assuredly resume his role at Buck and split time with Dante Fowler Jr.
Currently Florida has three 4-star defensive end recruits to add to Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, Evan Holmes and Kedric Johnson. Bullard is a player that, with some added size in the offseason, could make the move to tackle.
Bullard is coming off of his best game as a Gator, but lacks the kind of initial burst that makes players like Easley, Powell and Floyd great pass rushers. Moving him inside would not only help Florida with depth issues, but could be the best move for Bullard long term.
So will the Gators defense be as good in 2013 as it was this season?
Yes, if not better.
Florida is getting a true lockdown corner in Vernon Hargreaves, who should be ready to start day one and will give Florida one of the best secondaries in the country along with Cody Riggs, Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins. Add Brian Poole, Marcus Maye, Rhaheim Ledbetter, Saunders, Nick Washington, Keanu Neal and Gorman at safety.
That is not a secondary I would want to try to throw on.
Will the Gators defense be better in 2013?
The linebackers will be just as good, if not better next season. Taylor should be able to fill in for Bostic at middle, while Morrison should make the move to Sam and Jelani Jenkins rounds out the unit at his Will spot. Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball, James Hearns, Daniel McMillian and Quinton Powell round out the unit and give it very good depth.
The defensive line would love to have Floyd and Easley back, but with the way they have been playing that seems to be less likely every week. Without those two, Florida would need to do some work on the recruiting trail to add another interior lineman.
At the end of the day, Florida's secondary and linebacker unit will be able to make the difference.
Being able to play a lot of man coverage will allow Florida to play more down lineman and get creative with their blitz schemes.
Will Muschamp has assembled one of the best defensive coaching staffs in the country and Gator Nation should have no doubt that Muschamp and Dan Quinn will once again produce one of the top defenses in the country in 2013.
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