If the Florida Gators' offense is suspect heading into the 2011 season, one would have to believe the defense is anything but. With the talent harvested in last year’s recruiting class and the experience gained by some top playmakers this past season, the defense has a chance to very successful. Add in the fact that they will be led by one the best defensive minds in college football, and the expectations should be very high in 2011.
So high, in fact, that the defense will probably be asked to carry the offense in the beginning. This will allow the inexperienced side of the ball time to grasp Charlie Weis’ system and philosophy.
Granted, the defense lost some special players in 2010 (Ahmad Black comes to mind), but that said, there is plenty of talent to overcome any loss.
There has been speculation and even evidence that plenty of players will be moving positions in the fall, so instead of offering up a potential starting lineup, this discussion relating to defense is going to pertain to the potential playmakers and upside of the defense as a whole.
Let's begin on the defensive line which, in the SEC, is where everything begins and ends. Upperclassmen Omar Hunter, Jaye Howard, Earl Okine and William Green are solid forces that have progressed nicely over the past year or two. None of them have developed into dominating linemen, but all have shown the talent to be very successful once consistency is established.
Some younger players that have shown great upside and look to be major contributors along the front in 2011 are Sharif Floyd (proven as good as advertised), Dominique Easley and Lynden Trail.
If Ronald Powell and Chris Martin remain at the defensive end positions, the potential for a speedy pass rush off the edge is bright. However, this will rely heavily on what kind of play the Gators get out of the linebacker positions in 2011. Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic showed great potential, but the returning seniors on the outside never quite met the expectations that were placed on them.
As mentioned, Bostic and Jenkins will be the strength of the linebackers in 2011, with Lerentee McCray joining the group. McCray picked up some valuable experience in 2010 and should be a contributor either at linebacker or end in 2011. As a junior his time to excel has certainly arrived, and the coaching staff will expect great things from him.
After the staff whiffed on Curtis Grant and Stephone Anthony during the 2011 recruiting process, there not much linebacker talent in the 2011 class. However, if Clay Burton adds the “it” factor to his resume, which his brother Trey brought in 2010, Clay could also be an immediate contributor. Both Burtons were 3-star athletes coming into Gainesville; however, both could be much more valuable than their star rating when all is said and done.
Speaking of Trey Burton, rumors have circled about him joining the defensive side of the ball in 2011. If this stays true, Trey will mostly likely be a hybrid and play a safety/linebacker position. At 6’3” 220, Trey would be huge safety. He’s shown he has an uncanny ability to play nearly any position on the field, and if he does indeed find his way on the defensive side, he could play a large role in his brother's development.
The list of returning starters in the defensive backfield starts with Janoris Jenkins. He showed the ability to lock down star receivers such as Julio Jones and A.J. Green, just to name a few. Jenkins will likely be the most talked-about cornerback in college football in 2011. How he responds to his recent run-in with law enforcement will speak volumes to how successful he will be in 2011.
Matt Elam and Jeremy Brown gained valuable experience in 2010 and will be asked to step up in 2011. Especially Brown, who was inconsistent for most of the year. Granted he was young; however, he will be pushed with talent behind him and will need step up his play this spring.
Cody Riggs, Joshua Shaw, Jaylen Watkins and Moses Jenkins all saw action last fall, with Riggs showing the most potential. All will be fighting for positions this spring and could provide instant depth at the position if the position battles are competitive.
The gem of the 2011 class is most likely the defensive backs that were snatched up. Marcus Roberson, Jabari Gorman, Pop Saunders and Valdez Showers were all highly touted defensive backs. Roberson and Gorman could provide instant impact to the secondary, which could take a lot of pressure off linebackers, if they remain inconsistent early on.
Yes, the defensive has a lot of potential. If I told you the list of players above and on the defensive roster included 8 – 5 star recruits and 19 – 4 star recruits, maybe you would be more impressed. Not that you need to be. Four stars, five stars, they are all just rankings (I know, I’m not going to get into that discussion), however the list of talent on this defense is evident.
Have faith in your defense in 2011, they will most likely keep you in a lot of football games, while your offense finds its way.