Florida Gators Football: Top 5 Defensive Players in 2011

Nick de la Torre@@NickdelatorreCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2011

Florida Gators Football: Top 5 Defensive Players in 2011

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    The Florida Gators offense didn't do the defense any favors this year. Time after time this defense was asked to make stop after stop while the offense couldn't stay on the field. 

    For being such a young unit, the defense outperformed all expectations. As a whole the defense was ranked 25th nationally, allowing 20.6 points per game, and ninth overall nationally against the pass, allowing only 167.3 yards per game. 

    With so much young talent on the defense it was hard to choose just five to make a list. 

    Here are the top five defensive players from the 2011 Florida Gators 

S De'Ante Saunders

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    As a freshman, Saunders enrolled early at Florida and used his extra time on campus to earn a starting job on opening day. 

    Saunders did not disappoint. 

    The freshman finished the season with 22 tackles, two interceptions and one touchdown. Saunders could have had a couple more interceptions on the year, but his pick-six against Furman allowed Gator Nation to take a huge sigh of relief. The interception extended Florida's lead to 47-32 and sealed a victory over the Paladins.  

    Saunders play this season earned him freshmen All-SEC honors and the No. 5 spot on our list. 

DT Jaye Howard

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    Jaye Howard was part of one of the best recruiting classes in Florida football history. He was a 2007 commit along with both Pouncey brothers, Aaron Hernandez, Joe Haden, Major Wright, Carlos Dunlap and yes, even the NFL rookie sensation Cam Newton.

    With all that talent, Howard got lost in the shuffle early but came into his own in his redshirt senior campaign.  

    Howard finished his final season with 60 tackles, eight-and-a-half tackles for loss, four sacks and scored the first touchdown of his football career on a fumble return. 

    After the season Howard had this year, he has earned a shot to play in the NFL along with the rest of his fellow '07 signees. 

LB Jelani Jenkins

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    Jelani Jenkins was a couple dropped interceptions away from having a first-team All-SEC-type of season, but that is just the way things went for the Gators this season. Jenkins finally got his interception against Furman, taking it 75 yards the other way and into the end zone. 

    Jenkins made up half of a linebacking corps that called plays and provided leadership early for a young Gator defense. 

    Jelani finished the season with 71 tackles, six for loss, two sacks and that one interception for a touchdown. Jenkins could have finished with five or six interceptions if he would have been able to just hold onto the ball. Jenkins finished with six passes broken up, second only to Matt Elam on the team. 

    Jenkins will spend the offseason catching bullets from the JUGS machine and return for his redshirt junior season ready to lead the Gators defense again. 

LB Jon Bostic

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    Jon Bostic had a great 2011 season. 

    The junior led the team in tackles with 86 and, along with Jelani Jenkins, was the anchor in the middle of the Gators defense. Bostic also accounted for six tackles for loss, three sacks, two passes broken up and a forced fumble. 

    Bostic was an enforcer in the run game and along with Jenkins was responsible for calling plays and any audibles on the field. The combination of Jenkins and Bostic is like having another coach on the field, which is an invaluable asset to have with such a young unit.

    The combination of Bostic's size and physical tackling along with Jenkins' speed and cover skills create a great combination at linebacker and a combination that we will get to enjoy for another season. 

S Matt Elam

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    Coming onto campus in 2010, Matt Elam was widely known as the kid who flip-flopped between FSU and Florida during his recruitment. As Elam went back and forth, many Gators fans took up the stance that if he doesn't want to be a Gator, we don't want him. 

    Boy, would they hate to see Matt Elam in garnet and gold. 

    Elam finished the year second on the team in tackles (72), first in tackles for loss (nine), tied for first in interceptions (two), first in passes broken up (seven) and even recorded a sack from the safety position. 

    In his first full season starting, Elam had a phenomenal year. 

    Only a sophomore, Elam will be back next year, and also hopefully for his senior season as he is still looking for his first win against that school out west he almost decided to go to.