Florida Freshmen About To Get Defensive

Urban Meyer says no red-shirts for Gators' incoming defenders

May 23, 2007

By Adam Caparell




Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer.
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Urban Meyer didn't mince his words when the conversation turned to his defense.


"I'm very concerned; I'm alarmed," the Gators coach said.


And who could blame him. With nine starters gone from last year's national championship winning unit, Meyer and the Gators are faced with the sobering reality that fielding the sixth-best defense in the nation, as they did in 2006, will be easier said than done in 2007.


"On the defensive side we have a lot of concerns," Meyer said.




By concerns, of course, he means holes to fill. Seventeen Gators were either selected in the NFL Draft or signed as a free agent three-and-a-half weeks ago and of those, 10 came from the defense where big names who were equally big performers are long gone.


Jarvis Moss (No. 17 selection in draft), Reggie Nelson (No. 21), Ryan Smith (No. 206) and Brandon Siler (No. 240) are just four of the Gators who have moved on and helped make up one of the top rushing defenses in the country last year - a defense that blew away Ohio State with its speed in Glendale on Jan. 8.  


Since then, Meyer has been left to pick up the pieces. Derrick Harvey and Tony Jonier are the only returning starters for the Gators, but don't start crying for Meyer just yet. The cupboard isn't totally bare.


"We'll be very young, but we'll be very eager, very talented," Meyer said.


Florida will welcome 13 incoming freshmen on defense, who will make up what CSTV recruiting expert Tom Lemming called his No. 1 class following signing day in February.


Carlos Dunlap is one of the headliners on defense, and just one of seven defensive linemen in Meyer's class along with Torrey Davis, who the Gators believe can become one of their main men clogging up the middle for at least the next three years. Lorenzo Edwards was one of the top high schools linebackers and he'll see action, especially with the departure of both Siler and Earl Everett. Major Wright, the nation's most highly touted safety, will have an immediate impact in the secondary.


The expectations of an immediate impact will not be limited to Dunlap, Davis and Edwards. There's a very good chance nearly all Florida's incoming defensive class could see time this season. After all, Meyer's hands are tied.


"They don't know that yet, but they're playing," Meyer said. "They'll be no red-shirts."


The success Meyer has bred, and taken to the next level, in his two short seasons at Florida has put the Gators in a situation all great teams face: the two-way street. Featuring the best players in the country means you're going to lose a lot of them by their junior year, as was the case with Moss, Nelson, Siler and Smith.


But those same players who are good enough to leave early for the NFL are more than good enough to step right in and contribute as freshmen, rather than spending a year red-shirting. Meyer has quickly adopted a different philosophy in Gainesville that wouldn't necessarily work at his former stops at Utah and Bowling Green.


"We recruit every freshman now to play," Meyer said. "There's no red-shirts at Florida. You're going to play."


So the supposed next Jarvis Moss, Brandon Siler and Reggie Nelson had better prove their worth ASAP because the bar has been raised at Florida, and it's not about to be lowered on Meyer's watch. He'll make sure of that.


"At least we have the standard set now where we can watch film and say, `Now this is the kind of play we expect out of you,'" Meyer said.


But what exactly can be expected out of the Florida defense come fall?


For one, it will depend heavily on the maturation of the severely decimated defensive line. The Gators will feature three new starters in the front four that lost five key components and Meyer hopes the experienced backups can step into their new roles seamlessly and the fresh faces can minimize their rookie mistakes.


But there will be some growing pains for sure. There can't be with such a roster upheaval like the Gators experienced. Some think Florida lost too much on defense to make another run at the BCS. Few are questioning the offense as Meyer now can really implement his spread attack to his exact specifications with Tim Tebow taking over for Chris Leak at quarterback.


"Offensively, I feel pretty good. I think we have some experience. I think we have some play makers. I think we've recruited well on offense," Meyer said.


They've recruited just as well on defense and all the desperation talk on Meyer's part about it could just be him playing possum. Meyer's a politicker who would love for the media to sell his defense short because he knows there going to be good, regardless of the fact only two starters are back.


Duplicating last year would be expecting a little too much out of the Gators defense, but Ohio State found itself in a similar position this time last year and it worked out pretty well for the Buckeyes - up until that final game, of course.