This season Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp will architect one of the most talented, yet young and inexperienced defenses in Gator history to reach unexpected heights in his third season at The Swamp.
And architect is something that fits Muschamp well.
When you hear the high-energy, passionate, defensive-minded head coach talk about the recruits he’s brought into Gainesville or even his eight players selected in April’s NFL draft, it speaks volumes to what he and first-year defensive coordinator D.J. Durbin are selling approaching the Toledo game next weekend.
The 42-year old defensive guru is fascinated by defense. He eats, sleeps, knows and craves to build great defenses.
His task this season is to take this year’s defense that has lost seven starters from last season and begin rebuilding it from the ground up.
After losing a batch of defensive talent in linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, defensive tackle Shariff Floyd and defensive backs Josh Evans and Matt Elam, Florida must strive to repair a defense that ranked fourth nationally against the run, allowing 94.9 yards per game, and fifth in total defense, giving up 287.5 yards per game.
The Gators might have lost stellar talent, but their defense brings back NFL-caliber potential this season.
Junior cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy as well as senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley have next-level talent and will be counted on as leaders of the youthful defense this season.
The Gators’ defensive line will see major retuning as current Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Shariff Floyd left some big shoes to fill after declaring early for the NFL as a junior. The Gators also lost Omar Hunter at nose tackle due to graduation. The defensive line accounted for 30 sacks last season and first-year defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who left South Carolina after seven seasons coaching the Gamecocks defensive line, will be responsible to bring back his unit’s static from 2012.
The new-look Gators’ defensive line has prospered this past spring and seen progress using a combination of junior college transfer Darious Cummings, senior Damien Jacobs and redshirt junior Leon Orr along with Easley and redshirt junior Ronald Powell at the two defensive tackles. The defensive end slots will be filled by sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Last season redshirts Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr. will accompany them as solid backup pass-rushing ends.
The Gators’ linebacker corps will have the biggest makeover after losing two of the best defenders last season with the departures of Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic to the NFL.
They will return sophomore Antonio Morrison at middle linebacker, who is suspended the first two games this season for two arrests within five weeks this summer, redshirt junior Mike Taylor, senior Darren Kitchens, redshirt freshman Jeremi Powell, and redshirt junior Neiron Ball will each gain immediate playing time in the group. Freshmen Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin are also vying for playing time in their first collegiate season as part of the Gator program.
The eyes would say that the secondary is also in a rebuilding stage.
However, with the losses of Matt Elam and Josh Evans out the door, secondary coach Travaris Robinson maintains a legit list made up of junior Jabari Gorman, sophomore Brian Poole, redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye who all will fight for time in the outfield for the Gators.
On the edges, Florida has arguably the best duo of cover corners in the nation with sophomores Purifoy, Roberson and senior Jaylen Watkins. The Gators will also groom true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, the most prized Florida signee this past February and best defensive back recruit by most recruiting services in the nation, by playing him in certain packages.
Muschamp will not have to go back to analytical geometry class to rebuild his Florida defense, the talent is undoubtedly there, but his young players will have to stay disciplined by reading their keys and making crucial stops throughout the season if they want to be a surprise unit this season in the SEC.
Some of their young talent may get baptized by fire early, but if they can weather the storm in 2013, Muschamp’s program will not be looking to remodel for a long time to come in their quest to bringing banners back to the rich, storied program.