UF defense bulking up


Florida coach Will Muschamp says the Gators' defense will be much improved.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 9:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 10:59 p.m.

ORLANDO — When it comes to stopping the run next season, Florida coach Will Muschamp is hopeful that experience will make the difference.

Florida finished the 2011 season fifth in the Southeastern Conference in run defense, allowing 132.7 yards per game.




While not bad, it's not up to the lofty standards Muschamp set at his previous stints as defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas.

“We've improved up front,” Muschamp said before speaking at Tuesday night's Central Florida Gator Club. “We entered the SEC last year with less starts than anybody else in the conference on defense.”

Even with the inexperience, Florida began the 2011 season strong against the run. The Gators entered October fifth in the nation in run defense, allowing just 56.6 yards per game.

But that was before Florida faced the meat of its league schedule. The Gators allowed 226 rushing yards against national champion Alabama, beginning an 0-4 month in which UF allowed 236 yards rushing to LSU and 185 yards rushing against Georgia.

Muschamp said he felt some of the run yards were inflated last season because opposing teams felt they could stay with the run because the Gators struggled to score points. But he acknowledged his team also let down against the run at times last season.

“We need to do a better job playing run defense, striking and playing blocks up front and tackling,” Muschamp said. “Those are the things we need to address. Scheme-wise we'll continue to evolve, be a little bit more 3-4, which will help us in the run game a little bit more because we'll have a little more girth on defense.”

Another factor could come up front, where 305-pound Sharrif Floyd will move back inside to defensive tackle and 286-pound Dominique Easley will move outside to defensive end. Easley was forced to move inside last season after Floyd served a two-game NCAA suspension for receiving unauthorized travel expenses. Floyd stayed outside when he returned.

“I think their more natural positions are where they will be this fall,” Muschamp said.

Westbrook to TE

Muschamp confirmed Tuesday that rising sophomore defensive end Tevin Westbrook will move to tight end next season. The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Westbrook played mostly on special teams last season.

“We wanted to give him a look in the spring, but we were really thin up front on defense,” Muschamp said. “But he's a guy we think can give us some more numbers, we want to be a multiple tight end team to be able create some edges in the run game.”

Muschamp said he doesn't anticipate any other position changes this offseason, “we feel comfortable with where we are heading into the fall,” he said.

Stewart to Connecticut

Muschamp confirmed that rising sophomore linebacker Graham Stewart will transfer to Connecticut, and that he intends to petition the NCAA to allow Stewart to play right away.

UF announced that Stewart, a Middletown, Conn., native, was leaving last week.

“I thought he had a good future at linebacker,” Muschamp said. “But he came to me on multiple occasions during the spring and shortly after spring practices and just felt he needed some personal things to take care of at home.”

Muschamp compared the situation as similar to former UF safety Josh Shaw, who transferred to USC to be closer to home last winter after the death of his grandfather. Shaw received a waiver from the NCAA to play this fall.

“A family situation that occurs like that and you are that far away from home, you deserve to have that opportunity and you shouldn't be penalized for it,” Muschamp said.

Etc

Muschamp said Easley is “ahead of schedule” in his recovery from surgery to repair a torn ACL and that defensive end Ronald Powell is staying both summer sessions in Gainesville to rehab his torn ACL. … Muschamp said cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) should be cleared for contact by July 1. … Also on the injury front, Muschamp said reserve receiver Stephen Alli suffered a stress fracture in his leg during the spring and is out three months.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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