Gators’ Quinn finding some pieces on defense

By Adam Silverstein
November 18, 2011

For as rough a season as the Florida Gators (5-5, 3-5 SEC) have had, the defensive side of the ball has had its share of moments.

Four players in particular – junior linebacker Jon Bostic, sophomore safety Matt Elam, sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson – have stood out and are slowly becoming a great foundation for the team to build on in 2012.

The Gators’ top tackler (77, 48 solo) and the most consistent player in the front seven, Bostic has registered three sacks and six tackles for loss this year. He has a nose for the ball and is doing exactly what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and head coach Will Muschamp expected from his position.

“We put a lot on him at Mike linebacker,” Quinn said this week. “I’ve been very impressed with Jon Bostic, I really have been. He’s a really good football player. His arrow is continuing to go up. He’s got football intelligence. He can run. He’s got size. I think he’s a good blitzer. I’m encouraged about where he’s heading as a player.”

If Bostic Florida’s best player up front, there is no question Elam holds that same title in the secondary. He is second on the team in tackles (61, 35 solo) and has accounted for three turnovers as well as 7.5 tackles for loss.

[EXPAND Click to expand and read the remainder of this post.]Perhaps most importantly, Elam’s versatility has given the Gators plenty of flexibility in the secondary. Though he’s the starting strong safety, he can also move into a nickel cornerback role and perhaps plays his best up at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s a really good player. Some guys just have the instincts to play, and he’s one of them,” Quinn said. “It’s no surprise to me the closer we get him to the line, he’s playing good. He really does a good job. He’s a hard worker.”

Earning a starting role from day one, Easley was hailed throughout the preseason as having the best and quickest first step out of anyone on the team. He has proven that this year with seven tackles for loss and a sack. Unfortunately, his propensity for being a bit too quick off the line has resulted in numerous offsides penalties including a good amount that have come at inopportune times.

Asked Wednesday if Easley was listening to the coaches about trying to correct his miscues, Quinn did not provide the most direct response but said the player is working on that part of his game.

“Certainly with the offsides penalties, that’s a huge issue and something we continue to address, and we’ll continue to do that. Yeah, I’d say he listens to us,” he said. “Is he wanting to do it? No. Is it undisciplined football? Absolutely. Are we the ones ultimately responsible for that? Yeah. Between the two of us, we’re going to get it right.

“He provides a lot of good plays for us – pressures and TFLs and the production that he can get. We gotta get that part of his game out of his system.”

Roberson has been a pleasant surprise for Florida considering he was forced to start right away due to the dismissal of Janoris Jenkins and the knee injury suffered by redshirt junior Jeremy Brown.

Though he has not been perfect, Roberson has been a pesky cornerback who has taken advantage of his physical attributes while waiting for the mental part of the game to solidify. Unfortunately for Florida, he injured his neck against South Carolina and will miss the remainder of the season.

Quinn, however, was prepared in case a situation like that occurred.

“We’ve played a lot of guys [in the secondary],” he said. “Cody Riggs is somebody who is certainly going to factor in and play a bunch. With him and the experience that he’s had, we certainly feel comfortable putting him in.”

With freshman safety De’Ante Saunders also playing well as of late, the Gators may have Elam spend more time at nickel or could send Saunders into that role depending how he does in practice. Both have played there at times this season.

Florida’s defense has had its share of lax moments in 2011, but the unit as a whole is one that – as Quinn and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis would say – the arrow has been pointing up on for a while.[/EXPAND]

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