Major Wright and Gator Secondary Are Key to 2008 BCS Title
Tim Tebow? The reigning Heisman winner and quarterback of the unanimous top five Florida Gators? Yeah, you've heard of him.
You've also heard of preseason All-American receiver Percy Harvin, All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes, and preseason All-SEC performers Brandon James and Cornelius Ingram.
If you watch ESPN you've probably even heard of the Gators' newest weapon, speed demon Chris Rainey.
We know who these players are, we know they're good, and we know that with this core the Gators have 6-1 odds to win the BCS Title. Only USC (7-2), Ohio State (4-1), and Georgia (5-1) have better chances according to Vegas.
While every prognosticator has heaped praise upon the Gators' potent offensive attack, they've also made it their job to highlight Florida's 2007 defensive struggles. More specifically, they've called into question the Gators' ability to defend in the passing game.
Perhaps rightfully so as the 2007 Gators' rankings were abysmal against the pass:
98th in passing defense (258.5 ypg)
71st in pass defense efficiency
73rd in interceptions (11)
54th in quarterback sacks (13)
In 2007 Major Wright, Wondy Pierre Louis, and Joe Haden were the problem in Gainesville. Entering the season they had zero combined starts and only Pierre Louis had seen any collegiate playing time; Haden and Wright played as true freshman.
This debacle has been well documented as the Gators gave up 25.5 ppg and were reduced to a reacting, passive, and confused operation. A far cry from the 2006 National Title Gators who surrendered only 13.5 points per game and 114 passing yards per game under the direction of first round draft pick Reggie "The Eraser" Nelson.
2008 will be a different story as the secondary seems poised to return the swagger to the Gators' defense. Three of last year's four starters return, and with Dorian Munroe stepping into Tony Joiner's role the Gators have gone from a young, inexperienced secondary to an SEC tested veteran unit in less than 12 months.
With 34 starts under their belts the quartet's success is paramount to the defensive success in Florida. Their upgrade in play will have a tremendous trickle down effect on the pass rush and the overall aggressive attitude defenses need to succeed in the gauntlet that is the SEC.
Major Wright's second year should see him blossom into a commanding center fielder with an improved nose for the ball and better command of his elite athleticism. With experience comes shorter reaction times, and shorter reaction times translate into a lot of big plays for a defense.
Wright is the centerpiece of this secondary and having him a year better frees up Urban Meyer and Charlie Strong in their defensive schemes. The Gators will show more man coverage, blitzing schemes, and disguised coverages in year two of the Major Wright era.
Cornerbacks Wondy Pierre Louis and Joe Haden were solid against the run and pass in 2007, but the shaky play of their inexperienced safety left the two exposed for scores and big chunks of yardage. 2008 should see a more aggressive approach and increased playmaking out of these two talented corners.
The question mark is Dorian Munroe, a redshirt with plenty of special teams experience but only two starts at safety under his belt. The plus to Munroe is his play in the 2006 SEC Title game in which he substituted for an injured Tony Joiner. Recording six tackles, one for loss, is no small task under the lights of the SEC Championship game with the BCS Title looming on the horizon.
Last year's flashes of brilliance will grow into sustained production and the Gators' defensive playbook will open up to full capacity. With a cocksure attitude in the back end comes aggressiveness from the front four.
As an old football maxim states, "Pressure gets picks" and "coverage gets sacks."
The idea that one hand washes the other is exemplified when an aggressive d-line is teamed with a quality, talented secondary. Expect both sacks and interceptions to increase as the Gators secondary covers down receivers and the defensive line gets to the quarterback in a hurry.
Increased freedom on defense with less reacting and more dictating will force opponents into compromising situations, lifting the Gators from the 88th spot in turnovers forced.
Another problem this improved secondary presents to opposition is the addition of blitz packages to the Gators' defensive arsenal. By bringing linebackers from the box, corners from the perimeter, and safeties from depth, the Gators can get more athletes to the point of attack and wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
The four men covering Urban Meyer's back end are incredibly talented and experienced a year in which they were the black eye of a tremendously capable Gator squad. 2008 will be much different as Major Wright leads his secondary into the season with expectations of excellence and all the tools needed to execute at the highest level.
You can count on more confusion in '08, only this time it won't be in the Gators' secondary, it'll be on the faces of opposing teams and fans as the Major makes yet another drive killing and demoralizing pick-six.
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