I'm wrapping up Spring with part two of my review. Today we'll take a look at the defense, also known as the side of the ball where all your favorite players are gone (unless you're me, because my favorite player ever is Will Hill).
The Gators are replacing two DBs, three LBs, and two DEs, all but one of whom were starters. Dustin Doe was a significant role player, despite his idiotic fumble return against Mississippi State.
The losses hurt even more on the stat sheet, too. To get numbers–y on you for a minute, the Gators are losing 62 percent of their sacks, four of their top five tacklers, and 65 percent of their interceptions.
Each player who left took an important chunk of the Gators' success over the last two years with them. Add the loss of defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and this is one of the most important developmental Spring seasons for the Gators' defense.
As with the offense, I'll break down the positions by group, taking a look at what we needed to know going into Spring, and what we learned at the conclusion of the Orange and Blue game.
The defensive line was surprisingly effective this Spring. I figured the interior of the line would be fine, as all of the big men are coming back, but both ends left for the NFL.
It's safe to say, the middle is fine. Jaye Howard was a monster right from the start, establishing himself as the Gators' best interior lineman. Omar Hunter looks like the safe bet to start next to Howard, as Marsh is recovering from double hip surgery.
The ends were less promising, but impressive nonetheless. The only two legitimate pass rushers on the team last year were Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham.
Both guys will be early-round selections in next week's draft, so I went in with understandably low expectations for the Gators' incumbent D–ends. I figured that whoever lined up at end would be placeholders until the monsters of the 2010 recruiting class were game ready.
While my opinion hasn't totally changed, I have conceded that Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou will be, at least, very good place holders.
Neither player is going to be the next freakish UF end, but both are competent and won't get the Gators killed.
Still, it's hard to go from Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey to Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham to Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou.
It won't feel right until Powell and Floyd are playing, but I'm more confident in who we have following Spring than I was prior to the start of practice.
Let's make a good news Oreo with bad news icing.
Feel free to separate the good news, lick off the bad news and dip the good news in a glass of milk and dammit this metaphor doesn't work, the bad news isn't supposed to be so delicious!
Moving on, the good news is that AJ Jones is still around. He was a totally underrated linebacker last year, and will likely take over the Earl Everett great but not NFL great role next year.
The bad news is that every other significant linebacker from last year is gone, and all three of those guys were far more effective than Jones.
The rest of good news is the Brandonbacker is back for the sixth consecutive year and it looks like the Crowderbacker is continuing as well.
For those who don't know what the Brandonbacker is, since 2005, a player with the first name "Brandon" has started for the Gators. The Gators managed four bowl wins, three of them being BCS bowl wins, during that period. Clearly, this is a good thing.
Additionally, both Brandon Siler and Brandon Spikes were the best linebackers on their respective teams so things are looking up for you, Brandon Hicks!
Sorry Brendan Beal, I don't know if you qualify under a homonym technicality.
As for the Crowderbacker, it's only the most storied tradition of the Ron Zook era (aka the only tradition of the Zook era). Each year since 2002, UF has anchored the defense with an absolute monster middle linebacker.
It is likely, that the Crowderbacker was the inspiration for Gatorade's Fierce flavor line. Anyway, it looks like Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins will battle it out, Gladiator style, for the honor, with the victor ceremoniously cannibalizing the loser.
Hey, opposing coaches, take notes! This is the Gators' weakest position right now, with only one starter currently on the roster.
The other position will be filled in a Wondy Pierre–Louis, "who sucks the least?"–style contest. The drawing currently consists of Joshua Shaw, Adrian Bushell, and Jeremy Brown. The winner will possibly be eternally hated by me, because we all know how Wondy turned out.
Janoris Jenkins looks like he might be able to fill in for Joe Haden though. Last year, he was a good coverage corner, but a poor tackler. If he can fix his "diving but missing" problem, he'll be a star.
If the corners are the Gators' weakness, then safeties are the monster truck in a "monster truck vs. things needing running over" competition. There's no way these guys will be bad.
Unfortunately, we didn't see much of the safeties, because they got a pass during the Spring game. Still, we don't need to see what we already know. They're the same guys they were last year.
It's partly because both guys will be on All–America watchlists and totally because of Will Hill. He's like the second coming of... oh hell, he's the first coming of Will Hill.
Don't sleep on Ahmad Black either. He's been the glue holding the secondary together for the last two years. He has a knack for saving touchdowns from happening, keeping the Gators firmly in the top 10 in scoring defense.
Bonus: Nickelback. I don't mean the crappy band. I mean the totally awesome position that the Gators used extensively last year and, which will probably continue to be important under Teryl Austin.
Last year, Will Hill was the nickel. With his promotion to safety, the position fell onto the most Will Hill–ish freshman on the roster, Matt Elam.
Elam's currently recognized for his beastly biceps and his flip–flopping, but he'll soon be known as that guy who makes huge hits on special teams.
He's also going to play nickel in nickel situations, which could almost every play or it could be when the Gators play against a lot of receivers. I haven't quite figured out Austin's defensive strategy.
Spring football gave a lot of guys valuable experience, which helped ease fears that the defense was spiraling towards 2007 levels. However, practice is no substitute for an SEC schedule, and everything we learned will only partially related to game situations.
Will we see some drop off? Yes. The defense lost too many good players to fully reload.
Will the Gators give up 25 points per game like they did in 2007? No. The defense lost a lot, but there's still plenty of talent to field a decent defense next year. Plus, there's experience in the secondary, something that was completely lacking in '07.
So while Spring didn't teach us everything, at least Gator fans can take solace in the fact that we'll probably be better than we were the last time we sucked.