Jelani Jenkins Declares For NFL Draft; LB Becomes Fourth To Leave Florida Gators Early

In a somewhat surprising move, Florida Gators’ redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins has declared his intention to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Jenkins joins fellow early draft entrants safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and tight end Jordan Reed.

Jelani Jenkins - Florida Gators

Though not lacking in potential or talent, Jenkins’ announcement is a bit of a shock because he could be deemed as the one of the four that would most benefit from another season with the Gators. Jenkins career wasn’t derailed by injuries, but they did slow his development at times. He came to the Gators as an all-world recruit, considered one of the better high school defensive players in the nation, but leaves with some feeling of “what if.” What if there hadn’t been a coaching change during his Florida career? What if he had been 100% healthy? What if he had played from day one? And what if he came back for one more season?

Jenkins is likely a mid-round pick as many teams might not believe they’ve seen enough to take him in the early rounds. He could be a sleeper if still available in the later rounds.

We’ll most remember Jenkins for one glorious moment that bailed the Gators out of possible disaster when he returned a block punt against Louisiana-Lafayette, sealing a Florida victory.

Florida Gators 14 – LSU Tigers 6; Mike Gillislee, Defense Lead Gators To Victory

Normally, putting your first points on the scoreboard with only 5:15 remaining in the third quarter of a game would mean doom…unless, you’re the Florida Gators. The Gators wouldn’t score until late in the third, but that first touchdown would give them the lead for good against the LSU Tigers. With the 14-6 win, Florida moved to No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the Coaches’ (but more on that later).

Mike Gillislee - Florida Gators

Like any good Florida fan, I was nervous heading into the game. Sure, I had my glass-half-full attitude with me, but I was internally nervous all the same. After all, this was October and this was LSU. Despite the Tigers’ apparent regression over the last couple of weeks, it was still a big team with a lot of wins in the past few seasons – something that can’t be said about the Gators. So nerves battled hope and that war would wage on throughout most of the game. I won’t say the entire 60 minutes because second-half Florida lifted my confidence with each passing minute, but it was close.

I won’t say I was happy with the offensive performance, but I was pleased with what the Gators did late in the game when they had to do it. Remember, this was a good/great LSU defense that Florida was facing. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill defense the Gators were up against; this was one that has been considered among the best the past few seasons. Despite an average of 3.0 yards per carry (remember, that includes sacks), the run game held it’s own against the Tigers. When Florida needed drives late in the game, it got them. It wasn’t picture perfect, but it fell right in line with the just win philosophy we live by here at The Bull Gator. It doesn’t always have to look good and style points will only get you so far. In the end, you just need to do whatever you can to win. That was Saturday for the Gators. Only 237 total yards on offense. Only 14 points score. A win all the same.

Despite a relative lack of offensive fireworks, there was a star among the unit. One you would expect, but a star nonetheless. It was, of course, senior running back Mike Gillislee. If one player has put this team on his back this season, it’s Gillislee. Lofty predictions will only take you so far, but Gillislee seems determined to get close to his while leading the Gators to victory after victory. He carried the ball 34 times (10 more than his previous career-high) for 146 yards and found the end zone twice. It was a workhorse performance and put Gillislee at 548 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry and seven touchdowns on the season. As goes the senior, so go the Gators.

It all came together on the defensive side of the ball. We heard a lot this offseason about how good the Florida Gators’ defense would be. Some even threw out “best defensive line in the nation.” Other would praise the talent in the secondary. Although linebacker play has been inconsistent over the past few seasons, the experience of leaders Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins would shine. Overall, the Gators’ defense was going to win them games and keep them in others. The offense’s job was to limit mistakes, while the defense carried the team. Basically, exactly what we witnessed in the win over LSU.

There are plenty of defensive players to be mentioned here, but let’s go with one for the moment. Matt Elam, Matt Elam, Matt Elam. Elam was determined to knock someone into Sunday. Friend or foe, Elam was out to lay hit after hit. After nearly taking teammate Loucheiz Purifoy out of the game, Elam set his sites on LSU players (a good decision on his part after Purifoy gave him a bit of a death stare). Despite flying all over the field throwing his entire body at Tiger after Tiger, it wasn’t a big hit that will be remembered. Elam’s strip on Odell Beckham was a game-changer. Had LSU maintained the ball, they could be the ones celebrating now. Instead, Elam made a heads up play and one that was more important than we may remember one day. Game ball one goes to Gillislee; game balls two, three, four, and five to Elam.

A hard-fought victory for sure, and one we’ll remember for a long time. While the Florida Gators are still improving and have much to work on, with each week we see a team on the rise. One that does more right than it does wrong, and one that is now more than worthy of that top-10 ranking.

“10 Things I Want Out Of The 2012 Florida Gators Football Season” – One Eyed Willy

We spend so much time discussing what’s best for the Florida Gators; what will help the sports teams both on and off the field. From time to time, we decide to be selfish though and discuss what’s best for us. These thoughts could help the football team or they could help us as fans. We may want a certain player to succeed because he’s a vital part of the roster or just because we like his jersey number. Whatever the case, these are the things we want out of the Gators’ 2012 football season. Up first, One Eyed Willy.

10. Less trouble off the field. Let’s be honest…ultimately it’s what happens on the field that we all care about. If we were going 12-0 and in the BCS Championship game, few fans would have a problem with the recent “misfortunes” of our players off the field. But, being a graduate of the University of Florida, I would hope that at some point the players can start realizing that any trouble they get into will be on the cover of the next day’s sports section and will be a black eye not only on themselves, but the entire football team and the university. At some point the double-digit arrests per year have to stop – or at least slow down.

9. A big time punt returner. I still remember sitting in the stands chanting “Lito, Lito, Lito!” before #3 would take one to the house. And while our punt block team was superb last year, I am still waiting for the next Brandon James or Keiwan Ratliff to step back there are take a couple punts the distance. We have tried several different punt returners over the last few years, but none have been very impressive in my eyes and some have been downright awful. So maybe 2012 is the year someone surprises me and becomes another weapon to compliment those 10 guys up front who have certainly been holding their own.

8. Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. As a self-proclaimed recuitnik, I realize that recruiting is a 365-day process. The 2013 recruiting class is off to a great start – probably the best start that we have ever had – but we are to the point now where we don’t just need great recruits, we need great recruits to fill some great big holes we have in the roster. Priority #1A and #1B is to find several highly rated wide receivers and offensive lineman. With our defensive line being stacked as much as I remember it being in the recent past, it’s time to focus on the offensive side of the ball and attract some guys that can not only play right away, but help this team win sooner rather than later.

7. More Matt Elam. I don’t care where he is on the field or what he is doing…I want to see more Matt Elam! Even though Elam is only a junior next year, there is a good chance that this could be our last time seeing him wear the Gator orange and blue. Elam is the heart and soul of this defense and we live or die by how much he gets involved in the game. So let Elam throw a couple of passes. Let him play running back some. Hell, let the guy punt or placekick. I really don’t care. Just put Matt Elam in a position to make plays and let’s see what happens.

6. Beat Texas A&M in Week 2. I talk more about wins in general further down my list, but I truly believe that this is a big game for the Gators. Not only are we playing a good team in week 2 (something we don’t often do), but we are playing at their stadium (one of the tougher places to play in the country) and against a team that will be playing in their very first SEC game. The Aggies would like nothing more than to send a message to the entire league that they have arrived by knocking one of the big boys off the first chance they get. We cannot let that happen. In order for the 2012 season not to be over before it really even starts, we must take care of business in College Station.


Florida’s D.J. Durkin Named Rivals Recruiter Of The Year

I’ve been hard on D.J. Durkin during his two seasons with the Florida Gators. During the 2010 season, the linebackers struggled and during 2011, special teams left more than just something to be desired at times. But I can swallow my pride and give the man credit where credit it due. On Monday, Durkin was named Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.

Durkin’s unit started to show life as the 2011 season progressed and definitely had their moments. I’m sure we’re all hoping 2012 is the season players like Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins reach All-American levels of play. Durkin’s biggest impact, though, may be happening off the field.

Durkin was credited for seven commitments in the 2012 recruiting class, including five-star offensive lineman D.J. Humphries and five-star defensive end Johnathan Bullard. He played a major role in kicking the door to North Carolina wide open. Durkin was also instrumental in keeping cornerback Brian Poole committed to Florida and following up with linebacker Jeremi Powell to ensure he would become a Gator.

Florida State Seminoles 21 – Florida Gators 7: Offenses Need Not Apply

On Saturday night, we witnessed one of the worst offensive performances of the college football weekend, and that team won by 14 points. The Florida State Seminoles laid claim to the 2011 state title by defeating the Florida Gators 21-7 in The Swamp. In a season in which Florida’s big three are a combined 20-16, that’s not a title to brag about. Then there’s the way FSU claimed it, in Saturday’s debacle of a game.

I’m not sure what we were to expect from Saturday night. It is THE rivalry game of the season every year for these two programs. There are never conference standings impacted and national title hopes were dashed for both the Gators and Seminoles before the season even began, but it was still supposed to be the rivalry we were used to. Then Dustin Hopkins kicked off at approximately 7:00 PM ET and we were all subjected to whatever version of football that was.

FSU’s offense was abysmal as the numbers clearly dictate: seven first downs, 2-for-15 on third-down conversions, 65 yards passing and 30 rushing for 95 total yards, 0.7 yards per rush and nine penalties for 85 yards. Yes, the ‘Noles lost almost as many yards due to penalties as they gained on offense. Despite all of that, only one number mattered: 21, or better yet 14 if we’re only talking about the FSU offense. The ‘Noles were the beneficiaries of a pick six that would give them the 21, but the 14 would have been enough on its own. That number and one other very important one made it possible for FSU to turn an easily forgettable offensive performance into a double-digit win over their instate rivals.

That other number would be four. Four as in four interceptions thrown by Florida quarterbacks. John Brantley would throw three himself before going out with injury. Anyone with the ability to feel even the slightest bit of sympathy would want to keep the Brantley bashing to a minimum. I’ll do so because there’s not much else to be said and I’m sure he’s ready to move on from his roller coaster career as much as we all are, but I will bring up the interceptions. The reason is simple really and all revolves around a question: what did he see during those plays? Analysts are always quick to point out plays where a quarterback’s vantage point may not have allowed him to see a defender. Fair enough. It’s hard to imagine that is what occurred on the first interception by Greg Reid and it’s difficult to believe Brantley didn’t see the four defenders in the area of his throw when Mike Harris intercepted him. The problem is that there have been too many throws that have brought up similar questions and concerns. Drives have ended too abruptly too many times over the last two seasons. Reasons are plentiful and Brantley can’t shoulder all of the blame, but only a few days after I wrote about his “career” day, the senior had another one he would gladly erase from history.

The Gators only managed 184 yards of offense themselves, much of it actually generated by Brantley before he went down. Once he did, any offensive hope died. Jacoby Brissett didn’t fare much better as the true freshman weathered through more growing pains. To say he led Florida to its lone touchdown drive is extremely generous. The drive covered 21 yards, 15 of which can be attributed to an FSU penalty. Much more couldn’t be expected from Brissett or fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel if he had been playing; the offensive issues go way beyond how either did or would perform.

For one side of the ball, it was an admirable performance. Jelani Jenkins totaled 11 tackles, the Gators forced four fumbles, but only recovered one, and Florida tallied four sacks. FSU’s two offensive touchdowns came after drives totaling 24 yards. TOTALING 24 YARDS!!! Sorry, but that’s not a defensive problem. Give the opposing team the ball on the 20 and then the four and points will be scored one way or another. You could argue that the defense could have held the ‘Noles to field goals on both possessions and that’s a possibility, but then what? Then the Gators lose 13-7 instead of 21-7 and we don’t feel any better.

The regular season is over and Florida is 6-6. If ever a break was needed this is it. The Gators will be invited to a bowl, but we have weeks before we need to worry about game plans and personnel and coaching. Those things are in the back of the mind at the moment. Or at least that’s where we’re trying to put them. It’s hard to forget what happened on Saturday night and for much of the season. You can say 6-6 doesn’t happen at the University of Florida. Well, it just did.

Florida Gators 54 – Furman Paladins 32: When A Win Isn’t A Win

A win should make you happy. Not content or relieved, but happy. Actually, we’d take content or relieved at this point. Those are acceptable emotions after the roller coaster the Florida Gators have been on during the 2011 season. What isn’t acceptable is a feeling of “what just happened?”

After one quarter of what many might try to define as football, although it was hard to call it that, the Gators found themselves down 22-7 to the Furman Paladins and Florida fans found themselves looking frantically for the basketball schedule (and resume templates for head coach Will Muschamp so he could update his). A 20-point second quarter eased the pain for only a moment until we all realized the Gators were up by only five. Another quarter and 10 more points for each team found Florida up 37-32 with one frame to go. Any other season and we’d need to be talked off the ledge, but this one brought nothing more the a sigh. A familiar sigh that has replaced any anger or discomfort in wondering what could possibly happen next. But then there would be the fourth and final quarter. Far from perfect, a close contest became a 22-point game. The Gators would win for only the second time since September while we would begrudgingly move forward to the FSU Seminoles.

Before we move on though, we look at the victory over the Paladins. We look because we are determined to learn. Our curiosity is what overwhelms our ability to go quietly ahead into the night. We can’t do it because it’s not within our nature. Instead our nature says we must evaluate and over-analyze everything that has happened from every different angle. It’s sadistic in a way, but it’s what we do. We praise the good and attack the bad. And here we go…

Games such as those against Furman aren’t winnable for Florida. Beat the Paladins and you were supposed to. Lose to them, or play like the Gators did for much of the game, and there are far more headaches than worth the warm-up for a matchup with a rival. It’s better to avoid games like these all together, and one day a nine-game SEC schedule may solve the problem for us, but until them we stomach what was supposed to go down without the need for an antacid.

No one told the Paladins that they were supposed to roll over and die and for their effort, we have to give applause. Good for Furman for staying in the game. Kudos for taking advantage of a situation and disrupting an afternoon. In the end, it wasn’t enough, but in some strange way it was. By gaining 446 yards, the Paladins exposed the Gators’ defense. In recent weeks, we’ve labeled the defense the rock of the Florida squad. It was the unit we saw marked improvement in. We looked forward to 2012 and the further progression of the defense. After Saturday, we wonder if another step, or leap, was taken back. You don’t give up 446 yards to an FCS team. Maybe you do, but you shouldn’t. Not in game 11, and not in The Swamp, and not with a defensive head coach even if he is in his first year. But if you are weathering through a record of 9-10 over the last 19 games you’ve played as a team, maybe you do. Pick sixes by De’Ante “Pop” Saunders and Jelani Jenkins were highlights, but little else was. Taking a step back in game 11 is like taking a step back for 2012 and, yes, that has us worried.

We find bright spots on the offensive side of the ball because in any 22-point win, you have to find them somewhere. There was John Brantley’s career day; we’ll start there. If the Gators’ 2011 season has been a roller coaster, Brantley’s career has been the fastest, scariest one there is. Brantley’s 329 passing yards? A career high. His four touchdown passes? Another one. We try not to celebrate the FCS wins as much, but we can celebrate Brantley. If this is what the offense was supposed to look like when Muschamp hired offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, then it came too late. Too late to make an impact on the season and realistically too late to change the fortunes of Brantley’s career. But just in time to allow us to enjoy what the quarterback was expected to be able to do. A 64-yard touchdown pass to Andre Debose in the third quarter was only overshadowed by an 80-yarder one quarter earlier. Years from now, when we look back at the career of John Brantley, we may do so with mixed emotions. A game we’ll have to recall was this one. One game where it looked like it was supposed to. One game that gave us hope for the regular season finale.

We can go ahead and classify this as a win; for Brantley, for Debose, and if only because the standings dictate it. Although we’re still not sure to think of what happened (Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army may have summed it up best with words like “worst” and “weirdest”), it’s technically a victory. A victory that is only the Gators’ sixth of the season and one that keeps the hopes of eight alive. It’s not often you dream of an eight-win season, but it has come to that. There are 120 minutes of football left for Florida and two outcomes to be discovered. Confidence in what those two outcomes may be isn’t high, but now the Gators play for something. Maybe state pride, maybe to go out on a winning note, maybe just to shut the door on 2011.

Defense: LSU Tigers 41 – Florida Gators 11

First thoughts here. Offense here.

Once again, the run game did in the Gators. LSU decided early it would pound the rock against Florida and did so to the tune of 49 times for 238 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t as explosive as what Alabama did to the Gators, but it was effective time and time again.

Spencer Ware led the way for the Tigers with 109 yards on 24 carries. His long of the day was only 18 yards, but he was able to consistently gain yards and make would-be tacklers look ridiculous. When relieved by Alfred Blue, it was much of the same. Neither went down at first contact and both were able to drag defenders for additional yards. That could be a testament to their ability as power runners, but more often than not it was due to a glaring problem in the Gators’ defense – tackling.

For the second-straight game, Florida defenders weren’t able to make tackles. They would meet Ware or Blue, attempt to stand them up, and ultimately get run over. This isn’t a coaching problem, it’s a fundamentals problem. These players know how to tackle, but aren’t using proper technique or are just getting overpowered. That can’t happen. Far too often, Matt Elam was coming up to help make a stop because the LSU running backs were bowling over the defender that got to them first. Amazingly, Jon Bostic had 13 tackles, Sharrif Floyd had 11, Dominique Easley had nine, and Jelani Jenkins added eight. Elam was second on the team with 12, but it seemed like his total was closer to 30 or 40. In a game dominated by the run, Bostic and Jenkins need step up. They two may have totaled 21 tackles, but how many ended with Ware or Blue falling forward? The answer is most of them.

A quick side note related to linebacker talk: Michael Taylor is going to be one heck of a defender. He should be on the field more. That is all.

In the passing game, Jarrett Lee didn’t end up being a hero, but only because LSU didn’t ask him to be. Lee only attempted 10 passes, but completed seven for 154 yards. He looked comfortable dropping back when he needed to and if asked to do more, could have had much better numbers. Even Jordan Jefferson got in on the passing action including a…gasp…jump pass! I can’t blame Les Miles for giving the Gators a taste of their own medicine, but I also hope next year in Gainesville Will Muschamp goes for it on every fourth down and calls a fake on every kick and punt.

If there was a glaring weakness in the passing game it was allowing the big gain. Rueben Randle totaled 127 yards on four catches including a touchdown during which he just ran by Cody Riggs. Russell Shepard averaged 20.5 yards on two catches. And even though Deangelo Peterson and Kadron Boone only had one catch each, they both went for over 20 yards. The secondary gave too much room to LSU’s receivers and was beaten deep on more than one occasion. During one-on-one coverage situations, Gators’ defenders looked lost being either too focused on the quarterback or too focused on the receiver, but never a good balance of both. Bostic had a sure interception that he never turned around to catch. He was covering the receiver perfectly on the play, but had he been aware of the ball, it would have been a definite turnover.

Speaking of turnovers, the Gators were unable to force any for the second-straight game. In each of the last two matchups, there were points late when Florida wasn’t that far out of it. Against Alabama, the Gators entered the fourth quarter down 24-10, but the defense was unable to force a turnover or stop the Tide in the fourth and the game got out of hand. Against LSU, it was much of the same. Down 27-11 entering the fourth, Florida had a chance to make a move. Again the defense was unable to stop the Tigers and the game got more out of hand than it had already been.

The defense screams potential and Muschamp probably screams a lot more at them. There is experienced talent and inexperienced talent as well. Against elite opponents, that talent has been on hold. Florida clearly has a lot to learn and improve upon before the program returns to that level, but what’s frustrating is what’s holding them back: a lack of pressure, tackling problems, and coverage mishaps. Can they be fixed? We don’t know, but the SEC schedule doesn’t stop to give the Gators time to do so. A week off after Auburn will be welcome, but then it’s right back to work.

Up next: special teams.

Defense: Florida Gators 48 – Kentucky Wildcats 10

Part two of what plans to be a four-part series. Check out the offense here.

The first item that has to be mentioned is the difference from one week to the next is the number of penalties committed by the Florida defense. The Gators only had five penalties for 45 yards total against Kentucky, and not all of those five were on the defense. Let’s hope the improvement from the last game to this one wasn’t a fluke and we’ll continue to see an increase in discipline by Florida on the field.

I watch games in a variety of ways and take notes throughout using numerous methods. When with friends, those notes are usually mental and then remembered during replays of the games the following day. When watching at home, they are either kept via Twitter or my trusty yellow legal pad. Saturday night was one of those legal pad nights and a note that I kept making was something to the effect of “good pressure from the defensive line.” We can say Sharrif Floyd was the missing piece and we may be right. Since Floyd’s return against Tennessee, the Gators have gotten into their opponents’ backfields much more often. The pressure provided by the front four has allowed the linebackers to roam almost freely and not provide as much blitz support because it’s needed. They can now do so as an added dimension to the defense. This time around it wasn’t just the four we’ve been mentioning since early in the offseason. Against the Wildcats, we also saw Omar Hunter provide plenty of push from the middle of the line. It may have been Hunter’s best game in quite some time.

It wouldn’t be a complete, or any sort of linebacker play, recap for that matter without mentioning Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, but for just a moment let’s look at the player who is quickly, and no longer all that quietly, making a name for himself. During the 2006 season, Brandon Siler played his heart out and was the leader of the defense both on and off the field. Behind him, a player wearing no. 51 was “learning the business.” It was an apprenticeship of sorts as Brandon Spikes was able to learn the college game from a great and then turn himself into one of the best to play the position at Florida. This season, Bostic has made himself the defensive leader. With every game, he seems more sure of his ability and is becoming another in a great line of Gator linebackers. Both he and Jenkins are providing examples of what the young linebackers can grow into. Much like five seasons ago, behind them, a player wearing no. 51 is “learning the business.” That player is Michael Taylor and Saturday may have signaled his coming out party. Bostic led the Gators with 10 tackles and also added a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack. Taylor wasn’t far behind, finishing with six tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception which showed very quick reaction time from the young linebacker. We may have another star in the making.

Some statistics jump out at you and make you think “wow.” This is one of them. Kentucky completed 22 passes on 44 attempts. Numbers like that would make you think a team totaled more than 165 passing yards. The Wildcats did not. The Gators’ secondary – which has been questionable at times – held the Wildcats to an average of 3.8 yards. They may have given up 22 completions – although that’s not a bad number considering the 44 attempts – but they didn’t allow many yards. The long of the night only went for 29 yards. The secondary is still trying to find which two individuals will round out the top four consistently, but they aren’t giving up the big play. Some of the younger players are giving up a lot of room off the line when in a cover zone defense, but the big play isn’t happening. Even on the 19-yard touchdown pass from Morgan Newton to La’Rod King, you could argue that King gave Moses Jenkins a shove before making the catch. The secondary has room to improve, but are actually playing better than many may believe. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a while before they play another quarterback any would consider in the upper echelon of NCAA passers.

Causing turnovers is always a good thing and Matt Elam was in on the party with an interception in a second consecutive game. Taylor added his pick and the Gators recovered two fumbles, including one resulting in a Jaye Howard touchdown. Florida also turned over the ball three times, but when you’re on the positive side of that statistics, it’s usually a very good thing.

Four games into the season the defense is allowing nine points per game. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take it. We all knew what the Gators were getting when Will Muschamp was named the new head coach and now we’re seeing it in action.

Next up: special teams.

The Defense: Florida Gators 33 – Tennessee Volunteers 23

The offense has been covered; moving on to the defense.
23 points isn’t three and it definitely isn’t zero, but even with Tennessee’s scoring explosion, Florida is allowing less than nine points per game on the season. We knew the Vols would be the biggest test the Gators’ defense had faced all season, but overall Florida played well and got the win. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray got his yards and his touchdowns, but the defense also intercepted him twice and pressured him throughout the game. It definitely didn’t hurt to watch the Gators completely shut down the Vols’ running game either. Good win; solid play by the defense. Plenty to like and some improvement to be had. We’ll take it and take 3-0 (1-0).
The defensive line was having trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks consistently during wins over FAU and UAB. With plenty of star power across the line, it was hard to understand why pressure was few and far between. You could have asked the question if Sharrif Floyd’s absence contributed, but it was difficult to imagine one player making that much of a difference. Then again, maybe it was the cohesiveness of the unit that was thrown off with Floyd watching from the sidelines. Against Tennessee, the pressure was back. The line only accounted for one sack – a split by Jaye Howard and Ronald Powell – but also helped spring linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins who each had sacks themselves. In addition, Floyd and Powell each had two hits on Bray and Dominique Easley had two tackles for loss. It was a start and needs to continue against Kentucky. Good to see Floyd back in action and hopefully a spring in Powell’s step.
Bostic and Jenkins were number one and two in tackles against the Vols and that’s the way it should be every game. They’re getting to ball carriers and finishing tackles. This is exactly what we all wanted to see last season and it’s something that makes us smile now. These are two of the more talented players on a roster full of ability and potential. In the new defense, they’re able to make plays and are doing so. Now if we can just get Jenkins to catch sure interceptions, the Gators will be golden! Other than that, these two are improving week after week and have become the leaders of the defense.
16 penalties for 150 yards. I’m sure real journalists would shy away from saying juvenile words in all caps. Luckily for you, I’m not a real journalist. Here’s my reaction to 16 and 150: YIKES! The fact that Tennessee had 10 penalties for 94 yards lessens the impact a little, but not much. At the heart of the Gators’ numbers were more pass interference penalties than you should have in a month of games. There were questionable calls for sure, but for the most part they were reasonable. That’s the nature of a young secondary and something that will improve, but right now it’s an issue. They’ll learn that when the receiver turns his head, they might want to as well because the ball may be coming. They’ll get there, if only because giving up 150 yards a game won’t be acceptable to Will Muschamp. I don’t know about the rest of you, but after watching Muschamp on Saturday, I would never want to come even close to doing something that he might deem unacceptable. The man has just a little bit of fire to him. You know, just a tiny, little bit.
Other than the penalties, the secondary passed its test against Bray. Because of a non-existent run game – the Vols netted a loss of nine yards – and having to play from behind the entire game, Bray did total 288 yards and threw three touchdown passes. He attempted 48 passes though. Brantley’s average per completion was actually higher. The secondary didn’t give up the long play and played well enough to not let him be a star. That’s good on a number of levels, but mostly because Bray may be one of the best quarterbacks the Gators face this season. They intercepted him twice and never broke. They may have bent, but they didn’t break. It wasn’t an A performance, but it also wasn’t a C. Despite the yards and touchdowns, I hope the confidence of the secondary continues to grow.
Allowing 279 yards to one of your chief rivals in a divisional conference game is acceptable. Allowing 23 points may be a little much though. If the penalty issue is diminished and the pressure on opposing quarterbacks continues, it’ll improve. This wasn’t a bad game for the defense and shouldn’t be seen as one. It was a test and, again, they didn’t break. This should be a team to be excited about.
Next up: special teams.

Florida Gators Linebackers – 2010 vs. 2011

One Eyed Willy and I continue to run through the positions, comparing this year’s roster to that of 2010. To read past installments, click each position: quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line.

2010: Lorenzo Edwards – SR, Brandon Hicks – SR, A.J. Jones – RSR, Jon Bostic – SO, Dee Finley – SO, Scott Peek – RSO, Gideon Ajagbe – FR, Neiron Ball – FR, Jelani Jenkins – RFR, Darrin Kitchens – FR, Ronald Powell – FR, Michael Taylor – FR
Preseason Rating: A
Postseason Rating: C
It would take a lot to convince me to give the Florida linebackers anything less than an A before the start of the 2010 season. Actually, no; you couldn’t convince me they didn’t deserve an A. I would stand my ground on that one. Brandon Hicks had been solid all-around for quite some time and was poised to take a leadership role. A.J. Jones had made some big plays over his career and was something of an under-the-radar type. Jon Bostic seemed to have the potential to be Johnny Rutledge, Andra Davis, Channing Crowder, Brandon Siler, and Brandon Spikes all rolled into one. We were about to see all-world Jelani Jenkins join their ranks. And add the possibility of the nation’s top recruit in Ronald Powell alternating between defensive end and linebacker and you had possibly the best unit on the team. Then something strange happened.
The linebackers disappeared.
I’ve been very careful to not place complete blame on the Gators’ invisible linebackers on anyone in particular, and for good reason. I really don’t know what happened. Some have said individuals like Bostic and Jenkins haven’t lived up to the hype. Some even remarked that Powell had an underwhelming freshman season. I’d argue with you on that for one huge reason: coaching.
Sure, each and every one of the players named above could have performed better. There’s no denying that. However, I have to look at the other piece of the puzzle and that piece is coaching. What was drawn up for these guys? Bostic wasn’t missing tackles on every other play; he was lined up ineffectively. Linebackers were sent on blitzes when the offensive formation or down and yardage to go didn’t warrant it. Although overall play could have been better, coaching contributed greatly to holding the unit back. Many times, they were removed from the play before the play even began.
Due to all of this, the unit gets a C and some are probably even asking “why that high?” I can’t give them a D for the sole reason that they did what they were told to do. They didn’t perform great and there were no All-Americans among them, but had they even lined up in a basic 4-3 zone or man formation for every single snap of the 2010 season, they would have performed better. Instead they were moved around the field while the defensive coaches tried to find an identity for their unit. The coaches get the D in this respect. The unit overall? C.
Jon Bostic – JR, Lerentee McCray – RJR, Scott Peek – RJR, Neiron Ball – SO, Dee Finley – RSO, Jelani Jenkins – RSO, Darrin Kitchens – SO, Ronald Powell – SO, Gideon Ajagbe – RFR, Graham Stewart – FR, Michael Taylor – RFR
Preseason Rating: A
It’s another A and for almost all the reasons it was an A before 2010. Bostic, Jenkins, and Powell have as much raw talent as any linebacking corps in the SEC. Add to them some players growing in the position and you have a unit that could be dangerously good. And yes, I include Powell here and even Lerentee McCray. Powell is playing the buck position and is mostly mentioned with the defensive ends, but if we understand the expectations of the position, he’ll be an LB from time to time. During recent practices, McCray has been moved from DE to LB and even been mentioned as a starter at times. He belongs here as well.
This unit has the potential to be the backbone of the defense as well as the captain of that ship. It needs to be again. Bostic has to take control as the main man in the middle. He needs to command the respect on and off the field that the former great Florida MLBs did. Jenkins needs to be the all-conference performer we all know he can be. And Powell – wherever he may be on the field – needs to enter beast mode and remain in it for 12 or 13 or 14 games.
The rest of the unit is solid in terms of potential, but lacking in terms of experience. None have significant playing time, but any could be asked to jump into an expanded role in 2011. If one of the starters goes down for any significant amount of time, that’s exactly what will happen. This unit, as much as any on the team, needs some blowout time early in the first few games so the backups can get in and get their feet wet. That’s almost a necessity with the linebackers.
One player I haven’t mentioned yet is Gerald Christian and for good reason. I have no idea where he will or won’t see the field. He’s a tight end. He’s a linebacker. He’s a tight end. He’s a linebacker. He’s a tight end. I know this happens with players from time to time because of talent at multiple positions or an injury forcing a move, but I hate it when it does. We may see Christian at LB at some point in 2011, but for now he’s a TE. I think.