Florida Football: How Will the Gators Replace 2 Key Playmakers?

Nick de la Torre@@NickdelatorreCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2012

April 9, 2011; Gainesville FL, USA;  Florida Gators safety Matt Elam (22) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (73) react during the first half of the Orange and Blue Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Enjoy watching Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd this Wednesday in the Sugar Bowl because according to Jason Leiser of the Palm Beach Post, it will be their last game in orange and blue. 

A while ago we predicted that both Elam and Floyd would forego their senior seasons, so while the news may not come as a surprise to a lot of fans, the defense will have a lot of production to make up for in their absence. 

Most Gators fans first became familiar with Matt Elam as the recruit who couldn't make up his mind. Elam flip-flopped between Florida and Florida State before deciding to enroll early at Florida.

The safety has totaled 165 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss and six interceptions in his three seasons in Gainesville. Elam has emerged as an emotional leader on the field, and Florida will have to find more than just stats to replace him. 

Sharrif Floyd moved back inside to defensive tackle after playing defensive end in 2011. Floyd, a natural interior lineman, saw an increase in production and was downright disruptive all season long. Floyd finished the season with 41 tackles, 11 for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and a blocked kick. 

So with two key components of the No. 3 scoring defense in the nation set to leave school early, how will the Gators replace them in 2013?

Replacing Elam will be a little easier for the Gators to do. Will Muschamp has recruited very well since arriving in Gainesville and the Gators have an embarrassment of talent at safety. The Gators will return Valdez Showers, Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye and Rhaheim Ledbetter while adding three more safeties in the 2013 recruiting class.

Nick Washington, Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris are all highly rated recruits and will compete for early playing time. Neal and Harris have the most realistic chance of earning significant playing time as freshmen.

Gorman played in 11 games this season while Showers played in 10. Showers and Gorman have the most experience and should open spring camp as the early favorites to replace Elam. 

Replacing Sharrif Floyd will be slightly tougher for the Gators. Floyd does things on the football field that don't always show up in the box score but make things easier for the rest of the defense. 

The first step in replacing Floyd at defensive tackle would be to move Dominique Easley back inside. Easley finished this season with 21 tackles, 16 less than he had while playing tackle in 2011. Easley also had more tackles for loss (7.5) at tackle than he did this season playing end (5).

Moving Easley back inside leaves a hole at defensive end. That hole can be easily filled by both Dante Fowler Jr. or Jonathan Bullard. Fowler played almost exclusively at buck this season, but with the return of Ronald Powell, Fowler will have to find playing time at another position.

Damien Jacobs and incoming freshman Caleb Brantley will also compete for playing time at defensive tackle next season. 

Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam have had great careers in Gainesville and their absence will be felt next season. But thanks to Will Muschamp's recruiting efforts, Florida is equipped to handle the loss and re-load rather than re-build.