Gators 2013 Spring Football Preview: Defense

By Adam Silverstein
March 12, 2013

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 13 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. Below is the second half of OGGOA‘s new two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

PART ONE: Offense

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Junior Darious Cummings, redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams

The Gators have plenty of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball and it will be up to new defensive line coach Brad Lawing and assistant defensive line coach Bryant Young to figure out how to plug up the middle. With Sharrif Floyd set to become a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and Omar Hunter finally graduating after five years at the school, Florida will be looking to replace both of its starters. Senior Damien Jacobs, a junior college transfer who played in 12 games during his first season with the Gators, likely has the edge for one of the jobs but will still go up against Cummings (a 2013 JUCO transfer from the same school as Jacobs), Williams and redshirt junior Leon Orr, all of whom will compete for the two positions.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
Returning starters (1/2): Senior Dominique Easley
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Bryan Cox, Jr., redshirt freshman Alex McCalister, freshman Joey Ivie

Easley started all 12 regular season games at defensive tackle in 2011 and will be used inside some in 2013 despite starting 11 games at defensive end last season. His flexibility leaves the door open for a number of other players to make an impact. Sophomore Jonathan Bullard earned a pair of starts in 2012 and got rave reviews from the coaching staff; he is next in line to start and/or see major field time as a pure defensive end. McCalister, who won three Scout Team Player of the Week awards and was named Most Valuable Defensive Scout Team Member at the team banquet in Dec. 2012, was praised by head coach Will Muschamp at the end of the season.

Florida’s defense also features a Buck, which can line up with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end or upright as a linebacker. (For the purpose of this feature, Buck has been included in this position group.) Redshirt junior Ronald Powell was praised as much as any member of the team in the 2012 offseason but wound up missing the entire campaign with consecutive ACL tears. Lerentee McCray started in his place but graduated after his redshirt senior season. Though Powell will not participate in spring practice, he will retake his role as starter in the summer assuming he is medically cleared. He will be joined by sophomore Dante Fowler, Jr. – Powell’s heir apparent – and McCalister.


LINEBACKERS
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Jeremi Powell, freshman Alex Anzalone, freshman Daniel McMillian, freshman Matt Rolin (injured)

The Gators technically started three linebackers just four times in 2012 with a nickel cornerback taking the final starting spot in the other nine games. Nevertheless, full-time starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins are gone and all three true linebacker positions are up for grabs. Middle linebacker: Redshirt junior Michael Taylor spent the 2012 season backing up Bostic on the inside and has the most experience in that role, but sophomore Antonio Morrison has also proved to have the talent and intelligence to man the middle. Will linebacker: Morrison, however, is better suited to play outside if Florida can afford it. He started four games in place of Jenkins in 2012 and concluded the season with 34 tackles (two for loss), a sack and a forced fumble. Sam linebacker: Redshirt junior Neiron Ball and senior Darrin Kitchens (two starts each) were the primary players at Sam last year. Ball, returning after missing the entire 2011 season, flashed his immense ability but was not yet back in form. Kitchens is the most experienced Gators linebacker but not necessarily the most talented.

Then there are the wild cards. Jeremi Powell has a year of practice under his belt and the coaching staff knows what it is going to get from him. He possesses a number of elite traits that may make him a top-end outside linebacker and received high marks from the coaches including five Scout Team Player of the Week awards. Anzalone and McMillian will also be vying for playing time right out of the gate. The former possesses a high football IQ, while the latter appears explosive off the edge and tight in coverage, giving him a couple of traits that Muschamp undoubtedly covets. Though the linebacker positions are up for grabs, it is unlikely that one of the freshmen wins the job outright in the spring; however, both can make an early impact and ensure that the coaches are paying attention to them when summer practice rolls around.

CORNERBACKS
Returning starters (3/3): Junior Loucheiz Purifoy, junior Marcus Roberson, senior Jaylen Watkins
Fresh faces: Sophomore Brian Poole

While most defensive positions are looking to be patched up from the heavy losses sustained by the unit in the offseason, Florida’s cornerbacks remain as solid as can be. Purifoy started 12 games last season and did more than enough to retain his job (51 tackles, five pass defenses, three forced fumbles) but will apparently be spending the summer working out exclusively at wide receiver. Even so, chances are the job is his should he wind up returning to defense full-time. Watkins started 10 games opposite Purifoy (one more at safety) and made his presence known, registering 39 tackles with three interceptions and eight pass defenses. The third amigo in this triumvirate is Roberson, who started 10 games as a true freshman but just four in his sophomore season. The Gators rotated so many secondary players that Roberson saw more than an ample amount of time on the field. His presence and ability are the main reasons why moving Purifoy to receiver is even a possibility for Florida.

The Gators also start a nickel cornerback most of the time, doing so in 9-of-13 games in 2012. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs was expected to hold down that role but missed the season with a foot injury. He is the prime candidate to take over that position again but will also be in the mix at cornerback and safety (more on that below). Poole (who made a huge jump during bowl practices) and redshirt senior Jeremy Brown (finally back healthy from knee problems) will also be in the mix at every cornerback position.

SAFETIES
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter, redshirt freshman Marcus Maye

While the competitions set for defensive tackle and linebacker will be legitimate, each already has its early front-runners. At safety, the positions are truly up for grabs with a number of players scheduled to be going out for the jobs. Riggs, Watkins and Poole will all be tried out at safety; each has some form of experience at the position whether having played it previously or practiced in the role extensively last season. Joining them will be junior Jabari Gorman and redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers as well as second-year players Ledbetter and Maye. Ledbetter (who will be spending the first seven days of spring practice at fullback) used last season to improve as an all-around player; he has the physicality, strength and toughness to play strong safety. Maye, who spent most of 2012 rehabbing a torn meniscus, was able to practice with the team leading up to the Sugar Bowl and was dubbed “very good” by Muschamp. By all accounts, he has been working extremely hard all offseason in order to ensure that he is ready to compete this spring.

KICKERS
Returning starters (0/1): None
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin

Hardin was recruited to be the heir apparent to Caleb Sturgis but will not have the kicking job handed to him on a silver platter. Senior Brad Phillips, who has made four extra points and 2-of-4 field goals (long: 43) over his last two seasons, will be pushing him all year long.

PUNTERS
Returning starters (1/1): Junior Kyle Christy
Fresh faces: None

After a rough freshman campaign, Christy came on in a big way during his sophomore season and was even a finalist for the 2012 Ray Guy Award. He averaged 45.8 yards per punt (4.9 better than 2011), dropped 27-of-66 inside the 20-yard line and had 33 percent of his punts fair caught by opposing returners.

LONG SNAPPERS
Returning starters (2/2): Redshirt junior Drew Ferris, redshirt sophomore Kyle Crofoot
Fresh faces: None

Ferris took over as starting long snapper in 2011 and was set to reprise his role in 2012 before breaking his collarbone in the season-opener against Bowling Green. An important member of the team whose loss was never fully quantified, he watched from the sidelines as Crofoot replaced him and started the rest of the way. Ferris will likely win his job back, but he and Crofoot could theoretically split the duties considering how successful the latter was as an injury replacement last year.

RETURNERS
Returning starters (1/1): Redshirt senior Andre Debose
Fresh faces: None

When Debose is not in Muschamp’s doghouse for one reason or another, he is as good as it gets for Florida at kickoff returner. And though he has struggled a bit with punt returns, he is also the most dynamic athlete the Gators have at that position, too. Consistency will be the key for Debose and considering he is shockingly limited offensively, it is the best way to ensure he has a role on the team all season long.

6 Comments

  1. NYC Gator says:

    Is Ronald Powell confirmed out for the spring? That sucks, I was hoping he’d be back at full strength by now.

  2. Jesse says:

    I thought we picked up a Punter commit from OSU? I don’t see him listed.

  3. Michael Jones says:

    Just looked up McAllister on Rivals.com. Said he is 6’7″ and runs a 4.7. Those are unbelievable Jevon Kearse-like freakish numbers. And if the kid worked that hard on the scout team last year, then it tells me that he’s also got a great attitude to go with those measurables. That’s a potentially scary combo.

    Really pulling for Ronald Powell. Both for him and for how much he can help this team. Huge heartbreaking loss last year and who knows how much of a role he would’ve played pressuring Murray and Bridgewater in last year’s losses. I’m guessing that at his best he’s comparable to those storied unblockable defensive ends that the SEC is famous for and one of the things that sets the conference apart.

    Look out for Antonio Morrison. He’s one of those rare hitters who has a knack for exploding on ball carriers similar to the inborn knack that home run hitters and knock-out punchers have. I look for that kid to be a sensation along the lines of Matt Elam.

    Man, that was a lot of talent Adam just went through. Hard not to be excited.

  4. Michael Jones says:

    Is everything good with Caleb Brantley? Will he be reporting in the summer?

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